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article imagePlanet GJ 1132b found to have an atmosphere

By Tim Sandle     Apr 7, 2017 in Science
Astrophysicists have detected an atmosphere around an Earth-like planet for the first time, in what is being heralded as major astronomical find.
The world is known as Gliese (GJ) 1132b. The planet is 1.4-times the size of Earth and lies 39 light years away. The planet is rocky, hot, a similar size to Venus and orbits a similar type of star to the Sun, although at a much closer distance. The planet was discovered by the MEarth-South array in Chile in 2015. Since then scientists have been investigating the object in great detail.
The following time-lapse movie below shows MEarth-South discovering the planet GJ 1132b:
GJ 1132b is what is classed as an exoplanet — a planet that orbits a star other than the Sun. As of 1 April 2017, there have been 3,607 exoplanets discovered in 2,701 planetary systems. One reason why these planets are of interest is in the event that some have the possibility of supporting life.
New observations suggest that the GJ 1132b planet, dubbed "super-Earth", is covered in a thick layer of gases. These gases are either formed of water or methane or even a mixture of both. The presence of an atmosphere was detected as astronomers captured images of the planet's star via telescopes positioned at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. As the scientists measured different wavelengths, reports, one of the wavelengths indicated a larger dip in brightness compared with other light measurements. This occurred every time the planet passed by. This indicated that the planet had a surrounding atmosphere that this wavelength could not penetrate.
While the presence of another planet with an atmosphere, and of a similar size to Earth,is remarkable it is unlikely, due to the very high surface temperature, that life could exist. Interviewed by the BBC, Dr John Southworth, the lead researcher (Keele University), explains: "To my knowledge the hottest temperature that life has been able to survive on Earth is 120 degrees Celsius and that's far cooler than this planet." The planet is probably what Science Alert calls a "water world with an atmosphere of hot steam."
The wider implications could be important, however, since M-dwarf stars like GJ 1132 are the most common star type in the galaxy.
The new investigation into the planet has been published in The Astronomical Journal, in a research paper titled "Detection of the Atmosphere of the 1.6 M ⊕ Exoplanet GJ 1132 b."
GJ 1132 b's discovery was featured on Digital Journal back in 2015 ("Astronomers discover Venus-like planet 39 light-years away.")
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