Scientists confirm 'Earth-like' planet with atmosphere discovered 39 light-years from Earth


For the first time ever, scientists announced this week that they have detected an atmosphere around a planet roughly the same size as Earth outside of our solar system, a key factor in the search for life beyond our planet.

The new study published in the Astronomical Journal details the findings around exoplanet GJ 1132b -- which has been dubbed a "Venus twin" -- with a rocky surface and high surface temperature. The newly-discovered thick atmosphere gives the planets another thing in common.

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GJ 1132b orbits around the dwarf star GJ 1132 about 39 light-years away from our solar system.

Researchers say the atmosphere is probably rich in water vapor or methane. The discovery is especially noteworthy because dwarf stars flares and particle streams usually blow away atmospheres of nearby planets.

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While astronomers have found atmospheres around larger planets -- including Jupiter-like gas giants and even one large "super Earth" that's roughly eight times the size of Earth -- this is the first time an atmosphere has been detected around a planet this size.

Scientists and researchers have long believed that a planet must have an atmosphere in order to sustain the conditions, but caution that the current findings are only a step in that search.

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"With this research, we have taken the first tentative step into studying the atmospheres of smaller, Earth-like, planets," researcher Dr John Southworth said in a statement about the discovery. "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."