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It's not a twin, but the Earth-like planet we just found is definitely family

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 9:13 IST

With terror attacks, rampant air pollution, melting ice caps and rising ocean waters, we're going to need a new planet. Soon.

Which is why you should be a lot more excited about the new 'Earth-like' planet that was just discovered.

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Meet GJ 1132b

Every so often scientists get all excited over a new Earth-like planet. But even with these discoveries becoming progressively less novel, Planet GJ 1132b is still special.

For starters, it's over three times closer than any other Earth-like rocky planet we've ever discovered. In fact, at just 39 light years away, we're actually able to observe its atmospheric composition with our telescopes.

But how Earth-like is it really?

Well, the good news is that, like Earth it orbits a red dwarf star similar, even if less intense, than our own sun.

It also takes a similar amount of time to orbit its star, taking the equivalent of 1.6 days for a complete orbit. Then there's similarities in mass; it weighs a little more than one and a half times the Earth's mass.

Sadly that's about where the good news ends. The planet is tidally bound to it's star, much like the moon is to Earth. This means one half of the planet is permanently shrouded in darkness.

Despite its star being far less intense than the sun, GJ 1132b is also too hot to be inhabited. Its proximity to its star means the planet has surface temperatures of close to 260 degrees celsius.

These scorching surface temperatures mean that it cannot sustain liquid water.

Still, it isn't so hot that it can't sustain an atmosphere, and this is what's got scientists excited.

Why then is it the most important planet discovered outside our solar system

With water being the key to life, you'd imagine we'd be a lot less pumped about GJ 1132b. But its proximity and similarities to Earth make it a vital discovery in our quest to discover habitable planets or extraterrestrial life.

The fact is that most planets like GJ 1132b are usually a lot hotter than it. While 260 degrees may seem positively inferno-esque, it's actually fairly cool in the larger scheme of things.

M-dwarf stars like GJ1132b's are the most common class of stars in our universe. While far smaller than our own sun, they're far more common. Recent studies have also shown that they tend to host planets similar to Earth, ranging from .5 to 1.5 times the size of Earth. With an average of 1.4 Earth-like planets to each M-dwarf star, they're easily our best shot at finding a mini-me.

And then there's that proximity: the planet is near enough for us to properly examine it with our telescopes. What's more, the relatively small size of GJ 1132b's planet means we can observe it pretty much uninterrupted.

For the first time ever, we'll be able to examine a planet like this, study its atmospheric composition and look for molecules that are the byproducts of life. We haven't yet found the intergalactic home of our dreams, but by studying it we'll be able to better identify new planets capable of sustaining life and finally conquer the final frontier - space.

Till then, there's always Star Wars.

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First published: 18 November 2015, 4:59 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.