Since the planet passes directly in front of the star from our vantage point, that means the star’s light will be filtered through any atmosphere and provide clues to the atmosphere’s composition. Work has already begun to study the planet’s atmosphere with the Hubble Space Telescope.
“We have already been awarded time from Hubble to look at the planet’s atmosphere, and the first of that data was gathered in January,” Dittman said.
“I haven’t fully delved into the data, and we need much more data, but the process of further studying this planet is already underway! We have more time with Hubble awarded but yet to be scheduled, and we have also asked for additional time in this year’s call for Hubble Space Telescope proposals, so we’re very excited to see what we find out!”
Astronomers are also looking forward to studying this world with even more powerful telescopes.
“This planet will be an excellent target for the James Webb Space Telescope when it launches in 2018, and I’m especially excited about studying it with the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope, which is under construction,” said co-author David Charbonneau of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics.
Unlike the crowded seven-planet TRAPPIST-1 system, no other exoplanets around LHS 1140 have been found so far. Multi-planet systems are thought to be common around red dwarfs, so it is possible that additional exoplanets have gone undetected so far because they are quite small.
But overall, the researchers feel this super-Earth may be the best candidate yet to study and characterize an exoplanet’s atmosphere.
“The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1,” said European team members Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils.
“This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries.”