Space telescope shows exoplanet

This artist’s illustration shows LHS 3844b a rocky nearby exoplanet. It’s 1.3 times the mass of Earth and orbits a cool M-dwarf star

This artist’s illustration shows LHS 3844b a rocky nearby exoplanet. It’s 1.3 times the mass of Earth and orbits a cool M-dwarf star

The planet is described as "overheated" by NASA, which notes that LTT 1445 A b is about 1.4 times the size of Earth. "The planet also is the second closest discovered so far that "transits" its star - that is, the orbit of LTT 1445 AB is tilted at the correct angle to, from our vantage point, pass across the face of the star".

This observation marks the first time Spitzer data have been able to provide information about the atmosphere of a terrestrial world around an M dwarf.

A distant rocky exoplanet has gone one better than Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet on "Star Wars", which is famously depicted as having two suns in its sky.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, shows that the extrasolar planet's surface may resemble that of Earth's Moon or Mercury. That's very handy because M-type stars tend to be not only small, but also on the cool side, so the infrared light being radiated from LHS 3844b can be seen directly by Spitzer.

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The side which is facing towards the star, or dayside, has a temperature of about 1,410 degrees Fahrenheit (770 degrees Celsius). If the planet had an atmosphere, the hot air on the dayside would naturally expand, generating winds that would transfer heat around the planet.

The principal finding is that it probably possesses little if any atmosphere - a conclusion reached by measuring the temperature difference between the side of the planet perpetually facing its star, and the cooler, dark side facing away from it. The primary reason is the absence of atmosphere which bars the wind and air movement stopping the heat dispersion.

Dubbed LHS 3844b, the planet has no atmosphere but holds to key to understanding where scientists should be looking for signs on life beyond Earth. The researchers believe that the planet is "a bare rock, unless a thin atmosphere is continually replenished over time".

M dwarfs are particularly violent in their youth, belching bursts of radiation and particles capable of stripping away budding planetary atmospheres. "The terrestrial planets in our solar system are enormously diverse, and I expect the same will be true for exoplanet systems".

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An atmosphere between one and 10 bars on LHS 3844b has been nearly entirely ruled out as well. They did not correspond to either the atmosphere, dominated by carbon dioxide or nitrogen, as on Earth.

"I'm still hopeful that other planets around M dwarfs could keep their atmospheres", Kreidberg said.

Spitzer and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have observed gas planets and their atmospheres in the past, but this is the first time that they've used light - or lack thereof - to gather data about a planet. These small and cool stars make up about 70 percent of the stars in the Milky Way, and they can burn for trillions of years-longer than the current age of the universe-making them prime hunting grounds for exoplanets, Adam Mann writes for Scientific American.

"We know that the mare of the moon are formed by ancient volcanism", Renyu Hu, co-author of the study and an exoplanet scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the press release.

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