Of the thousands of exoplanets discovered in recent years, GJ1132b is one to get excited about. It is, one astronomer told the Guardian, “arguably the most important planet ever found outside the solar system,” and it’s very, very close to us. (Relatively speaking, of course.)
GJ1132b is a rocky planet, about 1.2 times the size of Earth. According to the scientists who found the planet, it’s orbiting a star that’s about a fifth the size of the sun. It’s also blindingly hot–about 440 degrees Fahrenheit on average. That’s still much cooler than other rocky, Earth-like exoplanets found so far, and it’s cool enough that the planet should still have an atmosphere. (If the planet gets too hot, the atmosphere burns away.) GJ1132b also has one side that always faces its star, just like one side of the moon always faces Earth.
But perhaps that most exciting thing about this planet is that it’s about three times closer to us than any other planet of this type that we’ve found so far. It’s so close that astronomers will be able to observe its atmosphere with telescopes that have already been developed.
What that means is that we have a better chance of understanding how this planet works than any other found so far. That put us one step closer to finding a planet where life as we understand it might exist—which is the ultimate goal of exoplanet exploration.
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