Just when you thought all the planets in our galaxy had been accounted for, astronomers went and discovered a new one right in Earth’s own backyard.
They’re calling it Planet GJ 1132b. What makes it special is that the exoplanet is located only 39 light-years away from Earth, or “just around the corner” in galactic terms, according to York University Physics and Astronomy Professor Paul Delaney. The reason that’s a big deal is because most of the planets that get discovered are simply too far away for scientists to observe and study properly.
“There’s all sorts of exoplanets out there, but the further away they are the harder it is for us to use our assets…to get really good, detailed information about them,” Delaney said.
To make matters worse, most planets also orbit a bright star, which usually ends up creating blinding rays of light that prevent scientists from being able to see anything. But with Planet GJ 1132b, neither of those problems apply. It’s close enough for our telescopes to see it, and it also happens to orbit a fairly faint star.
“When all is said and done, we’ll be able to get a lot more insight into a Venus-like planet than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Delaney said.
The planet is being compared to Venus because it has a rocky surface along with a similar average temperature (about 200 degrees Celsius, Delaney says). While the planet is expected to have an atmosphere, astronomers don’t believe life as we know it can exist there.
So why are they even bothering to look?
“When we’re looking at exoplanets there’s an expectation that they’ll be similar in characteristics to our planets here in our solar system, but there’s no guarantee of that,” Delaney said. “What we’re trying to ascertain is, are these planets similar to the ones we’re expecting from our own solar system?”
In other words: everything we thought we knew about space could get flipped on its head on Planet GJ 1132b.