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Nearby “Super Earth” May Have an Atmosphere Worth Studying

A newly discovered exoplanet called Gliese 486 b may be able to help astronomers understand atmospheres on other rocky worlds. The planet is approximately 1.3 times bigger than Earth with a mass that’s about 2.8 times greater.

It takes Gliese 486 b just 1.47 Earth days to orbit a dim red dwarf star that is approximately 26 light-years away from us. This means that it is the third-closest “transiting” exoplanet that has been found thus far and since the star is around 30% as massive as our own sun, Gliese 486 b is the closest ever world that whips around a red dwarf with a measured mass.

The “super Earth” was discovered with the CARMENES spectrograph instrument on a telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain by Trifon Trifonov (from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, and the lead author of the study) as well as his colleagues. Then they analyzed more data collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to find out more information about the planet and its host star (they also studied data collected by a spectrograph called MAROON-X on the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii).

(Not Gliese 486 b)

Based on their data, the experts believe that the exoplanet is made up of iron-silicate which is similar to Earth’s composition. It is tidally locked which means that only one side of the planet faces its host star at all times. The estimated surface temperature on Gliese 486 b is about 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius) which means that although it’s very hot on the planet, it is more than likely cool enough to support an atmosphere that can be analyzed from right here on Earth.

Interestingly, the temperature on Gliese 486 b is very similar to Venus where it reaches about 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), but that also means that there probably isn’t any life on the exoplanet.

(Not Gliese 486 b)

Nevertheless, since it is located so close to our planet, we will be able to study it in further detail and hopefully learn more about its potential atmosphere. And with the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, we should find out even more data in the near future. “Future observations of Gliese 486 b will help us understand how well rocky planets can hold their atmospheres, what they are made of,” Trifonov stated, adding, “Optimistically speaking, in about 2.5 to 3 years from now, we may know if the planet has an atmosphere or not, and, if yes, what is its composition.” Artist impressions of Gliese 486 b can be seen here.

The study was published in the journal Science where it can be read in full.