Exoplanet with potentially life-supporting atmosphere discovered for the first time: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope may have discovered clear signs of life on a “potentially habitable” world nearly 50 million light-years away.

Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Montreal analyzed data sent by the JWST’s powerful optics in late 2023, marking possible oceans and air sources on the exoplanet called LHS 1140 b, located in the constellation Cetus in our night sky.

A distant planet may have characteristics for life through air and water. NASA

The name may not be that catchy, but its potential is.

“Of all the currently known temperate exoplanets, LHS 1140 b may represent our best chance to one day indirectly confirm liquid water on the surface of an alien world outside our solar system,” said lead author Charles Cadieux.

The James Webb Space Telescope has taken measurements of a world nearly 50 light-years away. NASA/SWNS

“This would be an important milestone in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets.”

NASA describes the planet as a “rocky world,” 1.73 times the radius of Earth and 5.6 times the mass. In terms of color, it looks like a cross between Mars and Jupiter.

Co-investigator Ryan MacDonald of NASA added that this is “the first time we’ve ever seen any trace of an atmosphere” on planets outside our solar system – which would take the Voyager probe 863,000 years to reach – with a rocky or icy texture.

If there is water, it is likely under dense, frozen ground. The landscape is described as more akin to the ice planet Hoth from “Star Wars.”

LHS 1140 b likely has an almost entirely icy surface. B. Gougeon/University of Montreal

“This would be an important milestone in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets.”

lead author of the study Charles Cadieux

He went on to say that LHS 1140 b is “one of the best small exoplanets” that can support a thick atmosphere. The new findings support a major milestone in the search for extraterrestrial life.

“We may have found evidence of air on this world.”

LHS 1140 b is believed to lie in a “Goldilocks Zone” that, like Earth, is at an ideal distance from its star — a thermal object about one-fifth the scale of our sun. As a result, temperatures likely support liquid water, which could be as much as 20% of the planet’s mass, according to estimates.

There are also indications that the exoplanet’s atmosphere has similar properties to ours, such as the presence of nitrogen.

“Our first exploration of LHS 1140 b with JWST has revealed that this may be the habit-zone exoplanet currently best known for atmospheric characterization,” MacDonald added.

“While we need more JWST observations to confirm the nitrogen-rich atmosphere and to look for other gases, this is a promising start.”

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