In 2017, scientists identified an exoplanet named LHS-1140b as one of the most promising places to find signs of life outside our Solar System. This alien world has now become even more peculiar. It appears to be an ‘eyeball’ planet, with a massive global ocean covered in ice, and a single, iris-like region measuring approximately 2,500 miles across, constantly facing its host star. This unique characteristic has captured the attention of researchers around the world, including astrophysicist Charles Cadieux from the University of Montreal.

LHS-1140b, a terrestrial world larger than Earth but still within a reasonable size range, is situated very close to its star, completing an orbit in about 25 days. The star itself is not like our Sun, it is a cool, dim, red dwarf star. However, this proximity places the exoplanet in what is known as the habitable zone. This means that it is not too cold for surface water to freeze entirely, but also not so hot that water would evaporate entirely.

Due to the close proximity between LHS-1140b and its star, the exoplanet is likely to be tidally locked. This locking mechanism means that one side of the planet always faces the star, similar to Earth and the Moon. This phenomenon has significant implications for the conditions on the planet, potentially influencing the distribution of temperature and weather patterns.

To understand more about the chemistry of LHS-1140b, researchers needed to investigate its atmosphere. Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), they were able to study how light changes as the exoplanet transits between Earth and its star. By analyzing the alterations in the light spectrum, they could deduce the presence of nitrogen in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. This finding suggests the existence of a secondary atmosphere, formed after the planet’s initial creation.

The peculiar features of LHS-1140b, including its ‘eyeball’ appearance and nitrogen-rich atmosphere, make it a fascinating candidate for potential life beyond our Solar System. While the global ocean on the planet might not be entirely what we expect due to tidal locking effects, the warm patch directly facing the star could harbor a thriving marine ecosystem. Detecting an Earth-like atmosphere on such a temperate planet is a challenging task, but one that researchers are eager to pursue further with additional observations. This mysterious exoplanet continues to pique the interest of astronomers worldwide, as they aim to unravel its secrets and potentially identify signs of an exotic alien ecosystem.

Space

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