Have we finally found where the aliens live? Scientists have recently confirmed the chemical makeup of the atmosphere for GJ 1132 b, a nearby exoplanet 39 light-years away. The stunning results significantly bolster hopes the planet possesses both water and methane in its thick outer layer — which raises the possibility the planet is habitable to alien lifeforms.
The paper, still up for review, in The Astrophysical Journal says the exoplanet — a large planet (roughly the size of Jupiter) that orbits a star — could have a steamy, water-rich surface and a rocky core. The team was able to form these theories with the help of the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the Eastern Southern Observatory in Chile. By collecting data from a broad spectrum of wavelengths, the scientists were able to see which light was absorbed by the planet and determine its chemical makeup, density, and size.
The data showed GJ 1132 b had a high likelihood of containing water and methane, but the research team wasn’t able to confirm. It will take more advanced research using an array of telescopes with a wider range and wavelength spectrum.
Nonetheless, this is exciting news for the field of astronomy. It gives scientists hope that they will be able to find more planets like GJ 1132 b and ultimately answer the question: Are we really alone in this universe?
“We have shown that an Earth-mass planet is capable of sustaining a thick atmosphere,” John Southworth, lecturer in astrophysics at Keele University in England and lead author on the discovery paper, told Scientific American. “This is one step towards investigating whether a planet could host life.”
GJ 1132 b is just 39 light-years away from Earth, surprisingly close by relative to the vastness of the universe. If humans ever master interstellar travel, we might get the chance to study it up close and personal one day.