Astronomers say rocky, Earth-sized world could be 'most important planet' ever found

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Nov 14, 2015, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

Astronomers have discovered a very hot, very rocky planet about 39 light-years from Earth. Though it’s probably not somewhere we’d want to set up shop (440 degrees F is a bit on the warm side), scientists say it could still be one of the most important discoveries in modern space science.

Why? Because, at 39 light-years, GJ 1132b is actually close enough that new telescopes should be able to actually see and study the planet’s atmosphere. By studying the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet in another solar system, scientists believe it could provide some invaluable data as we continue to search for a planet that might actually be habitable for humans. Check out the team’s full paper in Nature right here.

“This is our best chance to study the atmosphere of a rocky planet outside of our solar system,” lead study author Zach Berta-Thomson told Gizmodo. “By studying this much hotter version of Earth, I think we’ll learn quite a bit about what makes a cooler planet around an M-dwarf habitable.”

The planet will probably on the short list to check out with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) once it succeeds the Hubble and goes live in 2018. Scientists hope to determine what type of atmosphere the planet has, or whether it has one at all. Whatever the answer is, it will provide an important data point as we keep searching the cosmos.

We might not have found a second Earth just yet, but the more intel we can gather, the better we can tighten the search. Now we just need a way to actually reach one of those planets in case we do find one. But one problem at a time.

(Via Gizmodo, Nature)