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'Venus Twin' Discovery Excites Scientists Hunting Life in Space

Image: 'Venus Twin' Discovery Excites Scientists Hunting Life in Space
GJ 1132b is a rocky planet similar to the Earth in size and mass that orbits a red dwarf star.  (Dana Berry/SkyWorks/NASA)

By    |   Thursday, 12 Nov 2015 08:19 AM

A "Venus twin" exoplanet has been found only 39 light-years away, the closest one to Earth ever discovered, say researchers constantly on the hunt for some form of life in space.

Scientists found the planet, called GJ1132b, orbiting a dim star and it appears to have both a rocky surface and an atmosphere, reported Space.com. The planet, described as being a "cosmic stone's throw from Earth," is ideal for study because of its distance and the dullness of its star, noted the website.

According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, GJ1132b is 1.2 times the size of Earth and has 1.6 the mass. The planet's average temperature is a scorching 440 degrees and is tidally locked, meaning one of its hemispheres is always facing its star, said an astrophysics center release.

"Our ultimate goal is to find a twin Earth, but along the way we've found a twin Venus," said astronomer David Charbonneau of the astrophysics center. "We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can't wait to get a whiff."

GJ1132b can be studied in detail with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope and future observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope, said the center.

"This planet is going to be a favorite target of astronomers for years to come," said Zachory Berta-Thompson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Beyond its distance from Earth, what makes GJ1132b intriguing for astronomers is that the planet has been able to maintain its atmosphere despite being so close to its star, said Space.com.

"If we find this pretty hot planet has managed to hang onto its atmosphere over the billions of years it's been around, that bodes well for the long-term goal of studying cooler planets that could have life," Berta-Thompson said, according to Space.com. "We finally have a target to point our telescopes at, and [can] dig much deeper into the workings of a rocky exoplanet, and what makes it tick."

The Venus twin planet findings, which are reviewed in detail in the science journal Nature, will be studied with a more critical eye when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2018, according to the BBC News.

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A "Venus twin" exoplanet has been found only 39 light-years away, the closest one to Earth ever discovered, say researchers constantly on the hunt for some form of life in space.
venus, twin, discovery, life, space
368
2015-19-12
Thursday, 12 Nov 2015 08:19 AM
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