The planet LHS 1140, 39 light years from our Solar System, is 1.4 times larger than our planet and, due to its location in the habitable zone, could host water in a liquid state.

Illustration of the newly discovered rocky exoplanet: LHS 1140b.

Jason Dittmann of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his colleagues have discovered a rocky planet and of moderate temperatures orbiting in front of a star 39 light years away of our Solar System.

The planet LHS 1140b, defined as a super-Earth, is described today in the pages of the last issue of Nature.

MEarth-1 telescope set.

MEarth-1 telescope set.
Jonathan Irwin

Researchers they discovered this new exoplanet when observing from the MEarth-South telescope set (located in Antarctica) the star around which it orbits, consequently named LHS 1140. Stars like this – with a size less than 60% of our Sun – are the most common in our galaxy.

Despite having a mass 6.6 times that of our planet, the radius of this planet is quite similar to Earth. This has given clues to Dittmann and his team about the rock composition of it. Furthermore, the exposure of this super-Earth to its star is low, which puts the planet in the habitable zone where water could exist in a liquid state.

Where does this planet come from?

The authors suggest that LHS 1140b likely formed at its current location and in a similar way to Earth. Now the next step will be determine if it has an atmosphere, and if so, what gases compose it, an affordable objective with current telescopes and those that will be inaugurated in the near future.