A study released yesterday, with the participation of four Portuguese astronomers, points to evidence of a planet outside the Solar System with “a large ocean of liquid water”, orbiting a star a little older than the Sun.
The study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, had the contribution of astronomers doing research at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, which released the results of the work in a statement.
According to one of the researchers, João Faria, “there is a high probability of liquid water on the surface” of the planet LHS 1140 b, “which is in the habitability zone” of the star LHS 1140, a red dwarf 41 light years from Earth, in the direction of the Whale constellation.
Liquid water is a fundamental element for life as it is known.
Therefore, according to the same astronomer, cited in the statement, this exoplanet is “one of the best targets for future research by biomarkers”.
To reach the conclusion that LHS 1140 b may have a surface covered with liquid water, astronomers calculated the planet’s density and characterized its internal composition from data collected by the TESS space telescope and the ESPRESSO spectrograph in Chile.
Using the same data sources, they were able to detect traces of two more planets around the red dwarf (in addition to the other two that had been previously discovered, including LHS 1140 b).
The LHS 1140 star is about five billion years old (the Sun will be 4.6 billion years old) and has a surface temperature of around 3,000ºC, “just over half the temperature of the Sun”.
Since LHS 1140 is less hot than the Sun, the star’s “habitability zone” – an area that offers conditions for rocky planets in its orbit, such as LHS 1140 b, to have liquid water on the surface – “is closer”.
“This is another big step that we have taken in the search for another Earth”, underlines the astronomer Sérgio Sousa, also mentioned in the statement of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences.
Considered to be a terrestrial type, the LHS 1140 b extrasolar planet orbits its star in 24.7 days and is 1.7 times the diameter of the Earth and 6.5 times its mass.
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