A Brave New World : Scientists Hope To Have Discovered The Next Earth

1639 WordsJun 6, 20177 Pages
Adam Smith Mrs. Caruk AP Bio 5/19/2017 A Brave New World: Scientists Hope to Have Discovered the Next Earth Scientists have discovered a new planet that they believe may be capable of housing life. LHS 1140 b, the planet in question, is six times heavier than Earth, yet only 1.5 times as large, suggesting that it is an extremely dense ball of metal and rock. LHS 1140 b is ten times closer to its sun than Earth, as well, making the orbit only 25 days. The sun LHS 1140 b orbits, LHS 1140, is an old, dim red dwarf star, 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cetus. Everything about it is rather ordinary; red dwarfs are the most common type of star, and the light that LHS 1140 produces is too dim to be spotted with the naked eye.…show more content…
However, Earth does not orbit around an M dwarf, as our sun is much larger and burns brighter. David Charbonneau, a lead astronomer for MEarth at Harvard, says that “This is the first time we’ve found a rocky planet that gives us the opportunity to look for oxygen. This is the one we have really been hunting for.” Ironic, because the organization almost missed the planet’s existence; not surprising, considering how dull the star LH 1140 burns. LH 1140 b’s transit was tentatively detected by a single MEarth telescope in a Chilean observatory. To confirm that the planet was actually there, MEarth received help from the European Southern Observatory, also based in Chile, which uses a HARPS program to detect planets, as opposed to transits. The program detects the forces of gravity that a planet exerts upon its star, and traces the movements and interference. Doing this allows the astronomers to estimate planet mass, as well as distance from the star. The head of the HARPS program, Xavier Bonfils, says that the transit event detected by MEarth was very low signal and high noise. What makes LH 1140 b’s transit unique is that each orbit has the planet passing across its sun, much like an eclipse from our point of view. This fortunate positioning reveals much about the planet, such as the composition of the atmosphere by observing light refracting through the molecules present in it. The molecules absorb the light, and form a halo around the planet that displays

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