A SCORCHING hot planet with three suns has been found by scientists – and it may be our best shot at finding aliens.
The alien world, which has been given the catchy name LTT 1445Ab, orbits a single star but is near enough to two others that they all appear as three glowing red suns in the sky.
Artist’s impression of a view from a planet in a triple star system similar to LTT 1445Ab[/caption]
According to astronomers, the exoplanet’s close proximity to so many stars means it’s permanently roasting in a 160C heatwave – hot enough to burn a human to a crisp within seconds.
Despite its roasting temperatures, scientists think 1445Ab offers a tantalising chance to discover extraterrestrials.
That’s because the rocky world is a similar size to Earth and likely has an atmosphere – two of the key components for life to grow.
And at just 22.5 light years from our own planet, it’s also relatively nearby in space terms.
LTT 1445Ab is part of a triple star system, like nearby Alpha Centauri (pictured). Alpha Centauri consists of a single star (right) orbiting a pair of larger stars (left and inset)[/caption]
“It’s the best place that we know of so far to look for signs of life in an atmosphere,” team member Dr Jennifer Winters told New Scientist.
“We don’t know yet if there’s an atmosphere, and it may be too hot for life, but we’re hopeful because this is our best chance so far.”
Dr Winters made the discovery alongside her team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.
They used the planet-hunting space telescope TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) to spot 1445Ab.
Observations show the planet is about 1.3 times the size of Earth, and orbits its parent star once every five days.
The other two stars in the system orbit the first together at a distance of billions of miles.
“If you’re standing on the surface of that planet, there are three suns in the sky, but two of them are pretty far away and small-looking,” Dr Winters said.
“They’re like two red, ominous eyes in the sky.”
The image draws comparisons with the famous two-star sunset seen on the planet Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Plenty of creatures managed to survive there – though we suspect it wasn’t quite as hot as 1445Ab.
TESS is an orbiting telescope launched in April, 2018, with the express purpose of finding alien planets.
What is an exo-planet?
Here's what you need to know…
- An exoplanet is a planet that is located outside of our Solar System and one that is orbitting its own star, like how Earth orbits the Sun
- They are very hard to see with telescopes because they are often hidden by the brightness of their star
- Nasa sent the Kepler space telescope into orbit with the purpose of finding Earth sized exoplanets that might support life
- Over 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far and more missions to find even more exoplanets are planned
- A good way to spot an exoplanet is to look for “wobbly” stars because a disruption to star light can indicate that a planet is orbitting it and therefore blocking out light on occasion
- Expoplanets are very common in the Universe and the more we find that look like Earth the closer we get to knowing if we’re not alone out there
It scans the night sky for distant stars that periodically dim as their orbiting planets pass in front of them.
While TESS is good at finding exoplanets, it can’t tell us whether aliens live on them.
For that to happen, scientists need to scan it for the presence of an atmosphere and – eventually – send a deep space probe there to investigate.
The research has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal.
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In other space news, there’s renewed hope in the search for alien life after scientists recently discovered two Earth-like planets orbiting a nearby star.
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And, here’s a list of asteroids that could crash into Earth – including one with a one in 16 chance.
Do you believe that alien life is out there? Let us know in the comments!
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