Scientists have spotted a planet that could provide them with the opportunity to study the atmosphere of an Earth-like alien world.
It is thought that the super-Earth - which is being referred to as Gliese 486 b - could hold the key to finding extra-terrestrial life.
Astronomers of the CARMENES (Calar Alto high-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Échelle Spectrographs... mouthful, eh?) consortium published a new study which was led by Trifon Trifonov from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, which reports the discovery of a hot rocky super-Earth orbiting the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 486.
According to the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the proximity of this exoplanet is exciting because it will be possible to study it in more detail with powerful telescopes such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and the future Extremely Large Telescope.
According to reports, the planet is believed to be made of rock and thought to have a metallic core, just like Earth.
Trifon Trifonov explained: "The proximity of this exoplanet is exciting because it will be possible to study it in more detail with powerful telescopes such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and the future Extremely Large Telescopes."
The newly discovered planet is a super-Earth with a mass 2.8 times that of our home planet. It is also 30 percent bigger than Earth.
Gliese 486 b revolves around its host star on a circular trajectory within 1.5 days and at a distance of 2.5 million kilometres. One rotation takes the same amount of time, so one side always faces the star. Although the star Gliese 486 is much fainter and cooler than the Sun, the irradiation is so intense that the planet's surface heats up to at least 700 Kelvin (approx. 430 °C). Pretty warm, then.
José A. Caballero of the Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA, Spain) and co-author of the paper said: "The discovery of Gliese 486b was a stroke of luck. A hundred degrees hotter and the planet's entire surface would be lava. Its atmosphere would consist of vapourised rocks.
"On the other hand, if Gliese 486b were a hundred degrees colder, it would have been unsuitable for follow-up observations."
Caballero added: "All that we learn with the atmosphere of Gliese 486 b and other Earth-like planets will be applied, within a few decades, to the detection of biomarkers or biosignatures: spectral features on the atmospheres of exoplanets that can only be ascribed to extraterrestrial life."