NASA finds ‘super-Earth’ 137 light-years away that could be a promising candidate for alien life

NASA has discovered a ‘super-Earth’ 137-light years away in the habitable zone that could be a promising candidate for life.

Called TOI-715 b, the exoplanet is 1.5 times larger than Earth and orbits at a small, reddish star that could emit the right temperature for liquid water to form on the surface – a key ingredient for supporting life.

Astronomers now plan to analyzeTOI-715 b’s properties and atmospheres to determine if it possible companion planet. 

The super-Earth is located 137 light-years from Earth and completes one orbit every 19 days

Exoplanets are worlds located outside of our solar system and have been studied since 2018 by instruments like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), allowing astronomers to not only discover new worlds but to also reveal some of their intrinsic characteristics.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched six years ago to observe these ‘transiting’ planets, which orbit around stars like our sun.

An international team of scientists led by the University of Birmingham used an array of Earth-based telescopes to narrow down TOI-715 b’s location once TESS sent back clues of its existance.

The team found that TOI-715 b has a much tighter orbit than Earth, meaning it crosses the face of its stars more often and completes one orbit every 19 days. 

This is comparable to one ‘year’ by Earth’s standards.

NASA has discovered other super-Earths but many are not habitable because they are either too hot for survival or are fully covered in water

NASA has discovered other super-Earths but many are not habitable because they are either too hot for survival or are fully covered in water

However, that also means one side of the super-Earth always faces toward its star.

The position could cause extreme temperature differences between the day and night sides and affect climate and weather. 

The same system also might harbor a second, Earth-sized planet. 

The researchers said if they can confirm the second Earth-like planet within TOI-175 b’s orbit, it would be the smallest habitable zone planet discovered by TESS to date.

‘Planet TOI-175 b joins the list of habitable-zone planets that could be more closely scrutinized by the Webb telescope, perhaps even for signs of an atmosphere,’ NASA said.

‘Much will depend on the planet’s other properties, including how massive it is and whether it can be classed as a ‘water world’ – making its atmosphere, if present, more prominent and far less difficult to detect than that of a more massive, denser and drier world, likely to hold its lower-profile atmosphere closer to the surface.’

Although the super-Earth’s findings are unique in many ways, exoplanets themselves are not unusual, and NASA has discovered more than 5,000 of these planets and confirmed there are likely over a trillion exoplanets in the Milky Way alone.

The first exoplanet was discovered more than three decades ago and gives astronomers hope that other planets could harbor life.

Not all super-Earths are candidates for life, with some hosting extreme temperatures while others could be entirely covered in water or have active lava flows.

‘We don’t know a lot about super-Earths, because we don’t have one in our solar system,’ Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, told Mashable.

But if one thing is for certain, Renyu Hu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told the outlet: ‘They are indeed very exciting planets.’