Planet resembling Earth and Venus discovered 39 light years away

Posted at 6:51 PM, Nov 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-11 19:53:51-05

Scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside of our solar system to date — but it’s still a closer match to Venus than it is to Earth.

The Telegraph reports that GJ 1132b, a planet discovered in May and located 39 light years away, has been determined to have a rocky surface and be similar in size to Earth. The planet also has an atmosphere.

But that’s where the similarities with Earth end. Scientists estimate that GJ 1132b has a surface temperature of 2,600 C, or 4,712 F. That’s more than three times hotter than the temperature at which steel melts.

"The temperature of the planet is about as hot as your oven will go, so it's like burnt-cookie hot. It's too hot to be habitable - there's no way there's liquid water on the surface,” said Dr. Zachory Berta-Thompson, an astronomer from MIT’s Kavli Institute. “But it is a lot cooler than the other rocky planets that we know of.”

Venus, often considered Earth's "sister-planet" is also too hot to be inhabitable at 864 F, and has thick, dense atmosphere.

"We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can't wait to get a whiff,” said Dr. David Charbonneau, an astronomer from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Because GJ 1132b is much closer than other planets of its size, astronomers hope to study the planet closer with the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. At that point, researchers hope to study the makeup of the planet’s atmosphere and its weather patterns.

"We think it's the first opportunity we have to point our telescopes at a rocky exoplanet and get that kind of detail, to be able to measure the color of its sunset, or the speed of its winds, and really learn how rocky planets work out there in the universe," said Dr. Berta-Thompson.

Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.