Astronomers might have found the most habitable alien planet yet. Experts has confirmed the presence of thick life-sustaining atmosphere in an exoplanet called GJ1132b, about 39 lightyears a way from Earth. They also found hints of other substances such as methane and water.
GJ1132b is a planet mainly composed of rock and iron discovered in 2015. It is orbiting on a nearby M-dwarf star called Gliese 1132. It is about 1.2 times the size of Earth and is residing in the so-called Goldilocks zone - the allowable distance of a planet from a parent star to sustain life.
Researchers from all over Europe headed by Dr John Southworth of Keele University studied the planet utilizing the 'transit' planet-detection method. The team used the European Southern Observatory in Chile to monitor the nine transits of the planet in different wavelengths. The results has been drafted and under review in The Astrophysical Journal.
They discovered that certain wavelengths show extra absorption, which means that there might be presence of water and methane in the atmosphere. "We have shown that an Earth-mass planet is capable of sustaining a thick atmosphere," John Southworth from Keele University and lead author of the study said according to Scientific America. With the knowledge about the mass and size of the specific exoplanet, the researchers were able to study the planet's density and composition. They found out that the proportions of methane and water in GJ1132b's atmosphere are similar to the composition of Earth's air.
The researchers also highlighted that there must also be presence of water vapor in its atmosphere, which gave them two possible models of the planet's surface. The first one suggests the planet has an oasis of water enveloping its rocky core while the second one is drier and rockier. The current findings are not detailed enough to accurately study its surface
"The next step is to take observations with bigger telescopes, and space telescopes, covering a bigger wavelength range at a much better resolution," Southworth said. He added that their next step is to gather more data about the planet. The James Webb Space Telescope which will be launched by NASA in 2018 would be a big help in the study of the said alien planet.