Astronomers unveil potential habitable exoplanet Gliese 12b, opening new frontiers in search for alien life

Picture credit: NASA

29th May 2024 – (Washington) In a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, international teams of astronomers utilizing NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have made a groundbreaking discovery. They have identified Gliese 12b, an exoplanet situated approximately 40 light years away, which exhibits characteristics that make it potentially habitable and Earth-like.

Gliese 12b, orbiting a cool red dwarf star every 12.76 days within the so-called “habitable zone” or “Goldilocks Zone,” has confirmed attributes that suggest it could support liquid water. With an estimated surface temperature of 42°C (107°F), this exoplanet could provide the necessary conditions for life to thrive.

Measuring only 1.0 times the radius of Earth, Gliese 12b is among the smallest exoplanets discovered thus far and is hailed as one of the nearest Earth-size worlds found to date. Its proximity and dimensions make it an intriguing subject for further investigation into planetary habitability.

While Gliese 12b’s size and location present promising signs, astronomers are eager to determine its atmospheric composition, which remains unknown. To achieve this, scientists plan to employ advanced telescopes, including the highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, to analyze the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Such research could shed light on the disparities between Earth and Venus, despite their similarities, offering valuable insights into the formation of planetary systems and the conditions necessary for sustaining life.

The discovery of Gliese 12b signifies a significant leap forward in the quest to identify habitable exoplanets and gain a deeper understanding of our universe’s formation. Furthermore, it fuels scientific imagination and inspires the development of groundbreaking technologies that may one day enable human exploration of our cosmic neighbors.

NASA, at the forefront of this remarkable finding, announced the exoplanet’s existence, highlighting Gliese 12b’s potential habitability and its orbit around its host star every 12.8 days. As a “super Earth exoplanet,” it closely resembles our own planet in size, making it a captivating subject for astronomers and space enthusiasts alike.

Masayuki Kuzuhara, a project assistant professor at the Astrobiology Center in Tokyo, expressed the significance of this discovery, comparing Gliese 12b to Venus in terms of size and energy received from its star. However, the presence of an atmosphere on Gliese 12b, which remains uncertain, will ultimately determine its true habitability.

Gliese 12, the red dwarf star around which the exoplanet orbits, is considerably smaller than our sun, with only 27% of its size and approximately 60% of its surface temperature. These characteristics make red dwarf stars, such as Gliese 12, ideal candidates for discovering Earth-size planets. Their diminutive size and mass enable easier detection of smaller planets, and their lower luminosity facilitates the determination of potential habitability and the presence of liquid water.