Are we alone?

Look: 6 Earth-like planets JWST will study for clues to life

We might not find aliens, but these targets will bring us even closer to an encounter.

NASA

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will offer an unprecedented look at distant exoplanets.

We don’t know exactly what we’ll find out there, but astronomers already plan to investigate several rocky worlds similar to the one we live on.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

The search isn’t just for alien lifeforms — we first have to get a better idea of where to look for living things.

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That includes gauging what kinds of planets can form atmospheres, host liquid water, and foster environments that sustain the chemical building blocks of life as we know it.

Here are 6 Earth-like exoplanets that will further our search for extraterrestrial life:

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6. Trappist 1-g

This rocky planet is just a bit larger than Earth and orbits inside its star’s habitable zone — the area where a planet is the right temperature for liquid water to exist on the surface.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Trappist 1-g is just one of several planets in its star system that astronomers have their eyes on.

Trappist 1-e and 1-f are also located in their star’s habitable zone, and JWST will make the sharpest observations of these worlds to date.

5. TRAPPIST-1 c

Completing a full orbit around its host star every 2.4 Earth days, this rocky world nestles close to its host star and is roughly the same temperature as Venus.

NASA

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4. Gliese 486 b

Similarly, this scorching super-Earth is likely too hot to be habitable, but will offer another opportunity to peer at atmospheric conditions on rocky worlds.

RENDERAREA, MPIA

Investigating hot exoplanets will reveal new information about what conditions cause atmospheres to form — a precursor for planets to host life.

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3. Trappist-1 h

On the other end of the spectrum, this rocky planet slightly smaller than Earth is the farthest from its host star in its entire system. It orbits in the cooler space outside of the system’s habitable zone.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

ESO/M. Kornmesser

Researchers will also investigate if this planet has an atmosphere — and if it’s different from larger, warmer worlds.

2. LTT 1445 A b

At just a short 22 light years away, this is the closest rocky planet to Earth that orbits a cool M-type dwarf star.

NASA

Though it’s more than double the size of our home planet, LTT 1445 A b offers a crucial comparison point for understanding how rocky planets form and what sets Earth apart from the rest.

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1. Gliese 1132 b

This exoplanet is similar to Earth in several ways: it is roughly the same age, size, and density. But its atmospheres — yes, two — are somewhat of an anomaly.

NASA, ESA, and R. Hurt (IPAC/Caltech)

NASA, ESA, and R. Hurt (IPAC/Caltech)

Hubble observations revealed that the planet formed a second atmosphere on top of its original one.

So its no surprise researchers will use JWST to study it — possibly uncovering new surprises about how worlds can morph over time.