Planet with Earth-like atmosphere discovered - and it's just 39 light-years away

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Berlin : A significant step has been taken by astronomers towards the detection of life beyond solar system. They for the first time have detected an atmosphere around on Earth-Like planet just 39 light years away.

Scientists from Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany studied the planet known as GJ1132b, which is 1.4 times the size of our planet. Scientists imaged the planet’s hotstar, GJ1132 and measured the slight decrease in brightness as the planet and its atmosphere absorbed some of the starlight while passing directly in front of their host star.

Scientists for the first time have detected an atmosphere around the planet with a mass and radius close to earth’s mass and radius.

"With the present observation, we have taken the first tentative steps into analyzing the atmosphere of smaller, lower-mass planets that are much more Earth-like in size and mass," researchers said. GJ 1132b orbits the red dwarf star GJ 1132 in the southern constellation Vela, at a distance of 39 light-years from us. GJ 1132b is a transiting planet: From the perspective of an observer on Earth, it passes directly in front of its star every 1.6 days, blocking some of the star's light

Scientists used GROND imager at the 2.2-m ESO/MPG telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile to examine the planets close in seven different wavelength bands.

The size of stars like GJ 1132 is well known from stellar models. From the fraction of starlight blocked by the planet, astronomers can deduce the planet's size - in this case around 1.4 times the size of the Earth.

On the basis of new observations, the planet is larger at one of the infrared wavelength than the others. This also suggests the presence of an atmosphere that is opaque to this specific infrared light, but is transparent at all the others.

The team of scientist then simulated different versions of the atmosphere. On the basis of those models, an atmosphere rich in water and methane would explain the observation very well.

Observations to date do not provide sufficient data to decide how similar or dissimilar GJ 1132b is to Earth. Possibilities include a "water world" with an atmosphere of hot steam, researchers said.

"GJ 1132b provides a hopeful counterexample of an atmosphere that has endured for billion of years. Given the great number of M dwarf stars, such atmospheres could mean that the preconditions for life are quite common in the universe," they said.