Found with Webb: A potentially habitable icy world | Science & Technology

A international team of astronomers led by Université de Montréal has made an exciting discovery about the temperate exoplanet LHS 1140 b: it could be a promising “super-Earth” covered in ice or water.

When the exoplanet LHS 1140 b was first discovered, astronomers speculated that it might be a mini-Neptune: an essentially gaseous planet, but very small in size compared to Neptune. But after analyzing data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) collected in December 2023 — combined with previous data from other space telescopes such as Spitzer, Hubble and TESS — scientists have come to a very different conclusion.

Located some 48 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cetus, LHS 1140 b appears to be one of the most promising exoplanets in its star’s habitable zone, potentially harboring an atmosphere and even an ocean of liquid water. The results of this discovery by Université de Montréal astronomers are available on ArXiv and will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

An exoplanet in the ‘Goldilocks’ Zone’

LHS 1140 b, an exoplanet orbiting a low-mass red dwarf star roughly one-fifth the size of the Sun, has captivated scientists due to it being one of the closest exoplanets to our Solar System that lies within its star’s habitable zone. Exoplanets found in this “Goldilocks’ Zone” have temperatures that would allow water to exist on them in liquid form — liquid water being a crucial element for life as we know it on Earth.

Earlier this year, researchers led by Charles Cadieux, a Ph.D. student at UdeM’s Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) supervised by professor René Doyon, reported new mass and radius estimates for LHS 1140 b with exceptional accuracy, comparable to those of the well-known TRAPPIST-1 planets: 1.7 times the size of Earth and 5.6 times its mass.

One of the critical questions about LHS 1140 b was whether it is a mini-Neptune type exoplanet (a small gas giant with a thick hydrogen-rich…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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