Scientists Discover Earth-Size Planet with Potential for Life

NASA has found a planet 40 light-years away from Earth, with an orbital period of 12.8 days and the potential for life.

In a press statement, the agency described Gliese 12 b as a “super Earth exoplanet” with a size comparable to or slightly smaller than Earth. (Planets that are not in our solar system are called exoplanets, according to NASA’s website.)

According to NASA, the planet is in orbit around Gliese 12, a so-called cold red dwarf star. Despite having 60% of the surface warmth of the sun, Gliese 12 is only around 27% the size of the sun.

Discovered by two multinational teams of astronomers, it was found using images from NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) and many other facilities. So far, it is the closest known transiting temperate world that is Earth-sized.

Observing tens of thousands of stars at 20- to 30-minute intervals, TESS surveys a wide area of the sky for around 30 minutes at a time. One of the main objectives of the mission is to gather data on transits, which are periodic and short-lived fadings of stars caused by planets in orbit.

Astronomers believe Gliese 12 b is a unique contender for more atmospheric research. Venus, having lost all of its water, is no longer a livable planet, in contrast to Earth. If Gliese 12 b keeps part of its atmosphere, we might learn a lot about the paths planets follow to become habitable.

Just 7% of Earth’s distance from the Sun separates Gliese 12 and the new planet. The planet receives around 85% of Venus’s energy and 1.6 times as much as Earth does from its star.

When deciding whether or not to keep an atmosphere, the star’s storminess is a crucial consideration. Magnetically active red dwarfs regularly produce intense X-ray flares. Both groups’ research has shown that Gliese 12 is not behaving abnormally.

The light from the host star can sample whatever environment it passes through during a transit. The transit leaves a trail of chemical fingerprints that space telescopes like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope can detect because different gas molecules absorb various colors.

With no atmosphere, the newly discovered planet’s estimated surface temperature is about 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to NASA, scientists aim to investigate Gliese 12 b and related planets in the hopes that doing so could “unlock some aspects” of the history of our solar system.