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New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life

It was only a couple of weeks ago that astronomy fans were all excited about planet GJ 1132b, which shows evidence of an atmosphere. But the information from outside our solar system comes thick and fast (scientists have catalogued over 3,400 exoplanets), and now we have planet LHS 1140b to get excited about. Why? This planet, 40 light years away in the constellation Cetus, might have the conditions necessary for life. Specifically, it is a rocky planet with an orbit around its sun that could support conditions for flowing water on the surface.

The discovery team is particularly excited about gazing at the newfound world because it is close enough to Earth for existing telescopes to tell whether it has an atmosphere and, if so, whether its air contains signs of alien life.

“The scientist in me wants to be super cautious and consider all the reasons why we might not find life on this planet,” says study leader Jason Dittmann of Harvard University, whose team describes the new planet today in Nature.

It's a big leap from "favorable conditions" to "signs of alien life," but since we can monitor LHS 1140b, we will probably hear a lot more about it in the coming years. Read more about this intriguing exoplanet at National Geographic.

(Image credit: M. Weiss/CfA )

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