'Most important' exoplanet GJ 1132b found to have an atmosphere

A couple years ago, researchers discovered what they called the 'most important planet found outside [our] solar system,' the exoplanet named GJ 1132b. This planet is about 16-percent larger than our own, and it is located about 39 light-years away. While this planet is itself far too hot to sustain life, researchers had said that if GJ 1132b has an atmosphere, that'll be a monumental discovery indicating other — potentially cooler — planets nearby may likewise have an atmosphere. That makes this latest discovery all the more exciting: GJ 1132b does, indeed, have an atmosphere.

This marks the first time researchers have discovered an Earth-sized planet other than Earth that contains an atmosphere, marking a milestone for space research. This exoplanet is orbiting around the dwarf star known as GJ 1132, and it boasts a mass about 1.6 times greater than Earth's. The high surface temperature of this rocky planet means there won't be any water to discover on its surface, and it isn't a candidate for supporting life.

This exoplanet has been described as similar to Jupiter, possibly even a 'twin' for the planet, and the latest data indicates that it has an atmosphere. Though the planet can't support life, it is an important milestone in the process of discovering signs of life beyond our own world. The atmosphere of this planet is thought to be composed heavily of either methane or water vapor, though it isn't clear at this time.

Researchers will continue to study the planet to learn about its atmosphere. Keele University's Dr. John Southworth elaborates on that, saying:

With this research, we have taken the first tentative step into studying the atmospheres of smaller, Earth-like, planets. We simulated a range of possible atmospheres for this planet, finding that those rich in water and/or methane would explain the observations of GJ 1132b. The planet is significantly hotter and a bit larger than Earth, so one possibility is that it is a "water world" with an atmosphere of hot steam.

SOURCE: Keele University