The 'best candidate' to home alien life has been found
A planet known as LHS 1140b is orbiting a red dwarf star some 40 light years from Earth – and experts believe life could be residing there.
Although the planet is around 10 times closer to its host star than Earth is to the Sun, red dwarfs are much cooler than our star, which is a G-type main sequence star, meaning that LHS 1140b still sits in the habitable zone – the region in space around a star where there are good enough conditions to support life.
Study lead author Doctor Jason Dittmann, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said: "This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade.
"We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science – searching for evidence of life beyond Earth."
ESO • SWNS
The planet is 40 lightyears away
Research team member Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, of Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, said: "The present conditions of the red dwarf are particularly favourable – LHS 1140 spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars."
Water is one of the main ingredients and the team behind the research say that chemical reactions on the planet could have given in an abundance of water.
The planets orbit a red dwarf star
When red dwarf stars are young, they emit radiation which can scorch planets.
In this instance, as LHS 1140b is so big – approximately 1.4 times the size of Earth – the radiation would have been ineffective as the planet would have been covered by heaps of lava in its infancy, according to the study published in the journal Nature.
This lava would have fed steam into the atmosphere, which eventually rained down as water over the course of billions of years, with the planet itself being around five billion years old.
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Could aliens live on the planet?
Recently, NASA announced the discovery of a star known as TRAPPIST-1 which was found to have seven planets orbiting it.
The newly discovered solar system, which is the closest to have been found to Earth, piqued the interest of alien hunters as three of its planets fall into the star’s habitable zone.
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However, scientists believe that LHS 1140b may yield better results when it comes to aliens.
Dr Xavier Delfosse said: "The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterisation of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1.
"This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries."