NASA Discovers Potentially Habitable Exoplanet 40 Light Years Away

NASA has announced the discovery of a potentially habitable planet located 40 light years from Earth, which completes its orbit every 12.8 days. The exoplanet, named Gliese 12 b, is classified as a “super Earth” and is either nearly the same size as Earth or slightly smaller, according to a NASA news release. Exoplanets are planets that exist outside of our solar system.

“We’ve found the nearest transiting, temperate, Earth-size world located to date,” stated Masayuki Kuzuhara, a project assistant professor at the Astrobiology Center in Tokyo. “Although we don’t yet know whether it possesses an atmosphere, we’ve been considering it as an exo-Venus, due to its similar size and the energy it receives from its star, comparable to our planetary neighbor in the solar system.”

Gliese 12 b orbits a cool red dwarf star called Gliese 12. This star is approximately 27% the size of our sun and has about 60% of the sun’s surface temperature. Based on the assumption that Gliese 12 b lacks an atmosphere, NASA astronomers estimate its surface temperature to be around 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

Red dwarf stars are particularly useful in the search for Earth-size planets due to their small sizes and masses. “A smaller star means greater dimming for each transit, and a lower mass means an orbiting planet can produce a more noticeable wobble, known as ‘reflex motion,’ of the star,” NASA explained. “These factors make it easier to detect smaller planets.” Additionally, the lower luminosities of red dwarf stars facilitate the determination of whether their orbiting planets could be habitable and contain liquid water.

The separation between Gliese 12 and Gliese 12 b is just 7% of the distance between Earth and the sun, with the planet receiving 1.6 times more energy from its star than Earth does from the sun.

“Gliese 12 b is one of the best targets for studying whether Earth-size planets orbiting cool stars can retain their atmospheres, a crucial step to advance our understanding of habitability on planets across our galaxy,” said Shishir Dholakia, a doctoral student at the Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia.

Researchers plan to study Gliese 12 b and similar planets to gain insights into the evolution of our solar system. “We know of only a handful of temperate planets similar to Earth that are both close enough to us and meet other criteria needed for this kind of study, known as transmission spectroscopy, using current facilities,” noted Michael McElwain, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “To better understand the diversity of atmospheres and evolutionary outcomes for these planets, we need more examples like Gliese 12 b.”

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