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NASA has confirmed the presence of more than 5,000 exoplanets outside our solar system. Among the most common — a class of worlds called “super-Earths”. These are worlds 30-70% larger than Earth. They can be rocky like Earth or largely composed of dense swirling gases. Some of them may be habitable, that is, they have conditions that could support life, if it exists there. About a third of the exoplanets discovered to date are “super-Earths”.
In 2022, for example, NASA announced the discovery of the planet LP 890-9c. It has a rocky surface about 40 percent larger than Earth and orbits in the “habitable zone”. of its solar system, meaning that liquid water could exist on its surface, although this world could be colder than Earth.
Another super-Earth, discovered in 2022, could contain an ocean many times the size of Earth. Fortunately, both new and future giant telescopes will allow scientists to look into the atmosphere of these mysterious distant worlds.
Searching for new worlds is difficult. Specialized telescopes, such as NASA's TESS space telescope, must look at the stars and track minute changes in their brightness. A dimming of a star could mean that a planet has passed in front of a star, which could lead to the discovery of a new world. To date, TESS has detected more 240 confirmed planets, plus thousands of other celestial bodies that could be planets.
Today, the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful space telescope ever deployed, is equipped with instruments that can determine what exoplanet atmospheres are made of .
The closest planet to us, Proxima Centauri b, is a super-Earth discovered in 2016. Its existence became known due to the discovery of slight oscillations of its star, caused by the attraction and jerks of Proxima Centauri b. But none of our current telescopes is capable of capturing light from its atmosphere. Most of the planet remains mysterious to us, even if it is very close to the space point of view.
Many “super-Earths” potentially suitable for supporting life, but this does not mean that there really is life there. Actual detection of life on a distant super-Earth — it's a very complex story.
Trillions and trillions of miles away, a lot of evidence would have to come together to support any claim that life is likely to exist on the planet. In recent years, there has been a lively scientific debate about whether small amounts of phosphine gas could be a sign of life in the atmosphere of the closest planet to Earth, Venus.
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