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Friday, May 24, 2024

Potential new Earth discovered: Gliese 12 b

While Gliese 12 b presents a tantalizing possibility for habitability, reaching it with current technology is a significant challenge.

Astronomers have made an exciting discovery: a rocky exoplanet named Gliese 12 b, situated 40 light years away from Earth, that could potentially support habitable conditions. This groundbreaking find, reported in various scientific studies and news outlets, marks a significant step forward in our search for Earth-like planets.

Rocky Exoplanet in the Habitable Zone

Gliese 12 b orbits a red dwarf star, which is significantly smaller and cooler than our Sun, being only 27% of its size. Despite the star’s relatively low temperature, experts believe that Gliese 12 b’s conditions could theoretically support human life. With an estimated surface temperature around 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius), this exoplanet is among the few rocky planets where humans might survive.

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Discovery and Significance

The planet was discovered using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) by an international team of scientists. Their findings, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, describe Gliese 12 b as “the nearest, transiting temperate, Earth-sized planet found to date.” According to Thomas Wilson, a physics professor at the University of Warwick and one of the study’s authors, this discovery is particularly thrilling as planets like Gliese 12 b are very rare.

Characteristics of Gliese 12 b

Gliese 12 b is comparable in size to Earth and Venus, earning it the designation of an “Earth-sized” planet. It is located in the constellation Pisces and completes one orbit around its host star in just 12.8 Earth days due to its close proximity to the star. This proximity results in the planet receiving approximately 1.6 times more energy from its star than Earth does from the Sun. Despite this, its temperature is only about 50°F warmer than Earth’s average surface temperature.

Habitability and Atmospheric Study

The potential habitability of Gliese 12 b hinges on several factors, primarily its atmosphere. Scientists are still uncertain about the planet’s atmospheric composition, which is crucial for determining its ability to support life. A University of Warwick spokesperson highlighted the importance of the planet’s size and its distance from its star in maintaining conditions suitable for life. Planets that are too close to their star may lose surface water due to evaporation, while those that are too far could have frozen water. Additionally, a planet’s size affects its ability to retain an atmosphere; too small, and it cannot maintain one, while too large, it may have a crushing atmosphere.

Future Research Directions

The next steps for scientists involve studying Gliese 12 b’s atmosphere in greater detail to assess its suitability for life. The presence of a thin, Earth-like atmosphere could allow for liquid water, which is essential for life as we know it. Researcher Larisa Ballithorp from the University of Edinburgh notes that this planet’s relatively thin atmosphere could be similar to Earth’s, which is critical for maintaining moderate temperatures.

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While Gliese 12 b presents a tantalizing possibility for habitability, reaching it with current technology is a significant challenge. It would take Earth’s fastest spaceship around 300,000 years to travel the 40 light-year distance. Despite this, the discovery of such a nearby, potentially habitable planet offers invaluable opportunities for studying exoplanets and expanding our understanding of planetary conditions that support life.