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Life may be possible on the exoplanet Gliese 12b

Life may be possible on the exoplanet Gliese 12b

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The exoplanet Gliese 12b orbits a cool red dwarf star about 40 light-years from Earth. (Artist's impression) © NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (California Institute of Technology-IPAC)

Researchers have discovered an exoplanet that could support liquid water. Gliese 12b can teach us a lot about the habitability of planets.

TOKYO – There are many exciting celestial bodies among the more than 5,000 known planets outside our solar system. And now a particularly interesting new object has been added: Gliese 12b. The exoplanet is about the size of Earth or slightly smaller, which puts it on a scale with Venus. Gliese 12b orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 12 in the constellation Pisces and is about 40 light-years from Earth.

Its size, combined with its distance and surface temperature of 42 degrees, make this exoplanet very special. The temperature makes it possible for liquid water to exist on Gliese 12b, one of the most important requirements for life. “We have found the closest temperate Earth-sized world,” says Masayuki Kuzuhara of the Astrobiology Center in Tokyo, who led a study on Gliese 12b. “Although we don't yet know if it has an atmosphere, we considered it to be an exoplanet, with a similar size and energy input from its star to our planetary neighbor in the solar system,” he adds.

Size comparison between Earth and the newly discovered exoplanet Gliese 12b.  It can be the size of Earth or slightly smaller, such as Venus.  (artist's impression)
Size comparison between Earth and the newly discovered exoplanet Gliese 12b. It can be the size of Earth or slightly smaller, such as Venus. (Artist's impression) © NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (California Institute of Technology-IPAC)

Does the exoplanet Gliese 12b have an atmosphere?

The James Webb Space Telescope could show whether Gliese 12b actually has an atmosphere. The presence of an atmosphere and other details is very interesting for research, because it is still not clear in which direction Gliese 12b is heading: is it more like Venus – a planet with an accelerating greenhouse effect reminiscent of a fiery hell? Or can the exoplanet be compared to Earth, a planet with moderate temperatures, water, and life?

Gliss 12 b
The red dwarf star Gliese 12 in the constellation Pisces
About 40 light years away
12.8 days
Slightly smaller than Earth, it resembles the planet Venus
42°C
NASA

Shishir Dholakia, a doctoral student at the Center for Astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, led another research team that studied Gliese 12b. “Gliese 12b is one of the best targets to study whether Earth-sized planets orbiting cool stars can retain their atmospheres,” he emphasizes. Both research teams believe that Gliese 12b could help understand some aspects of the evolution of our solar system.

The exoplanet Gliese 12b is located between Earth and Venus

Larissa Palethorpe, who participated in the study, In the specialized magazine Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society published “The first atmospheres of Earth and Venus are thought to have been eroded and then replenished by the release of volcanic gases and the bombardment of remaining material in the solar system,” he explained. She adds: “The Earth is habitable, but Venus is not because there is no water left in it.” Because Gliese 12b is between Earth and Venus in terms of temperature, its atmosphere can teach us a lot about the habitability trajectories of planets as they evolve.

The study was conducted by Kuzuhara and his team In the specialized magazine Astrophysical Journal Letters published. Michael McElwain, co-author of the study, emphasizes the importance of Gliese 12b: “We only know of a few temperate Earth-like planets that are close enough to us and meet other criteria for this type of study, so transmission spectroscopy is needed.” He concludes: “In order to better understand the diversity of atmospheres and evolutionary outcomes of these planets, we need more examples like Gliese 12b.” (unpaid bill)