A joint group of scientists from the European Southern Observatory announced on Wednesday that the group has found a planet 40 light years away from Earth that could potentially support life.
The planet, which has been dubbed LHS 1140b, is roughly 40 percent larger than Earth, and is in its star's habitable zone. The habitable zone is an area around a star where temperatures are at a level that could allow for liquid water.
Scientists believe that liquid water and an atmosphere are two prerequisites needed for life.
LHS 1140b is 10 times closer to its respective star than Earth is to the Sun, but only receives about half the sunlight. LHS 1140b is circling a red dwarf star, which emits less heat and light than the Sun.
Scientists do caution that it is possible that the planet had its water stripped in the formation of its solar system, causing a runaway greenhouse effect.
But given the size and location of LHS 1140b, the planet is an obvious candidate for further research.
“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade,” said lead author Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, USA). “We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science — searching for evidence of life beyond Earth.”
One notable difference between planets is mass. LHS 1140b's mass is seven times greater than Earth's. That would result in more gravity.