'Venus twin' excites astronomers

A new, Venus-like planet has been found in our cosmic neighborhood. The exoplanet's hot surface and atmosphere has led astronomers to draw some comparisons to planets in our solar system.

MIT News Office/Dana Berry
In this artist's rendering of GJ 1132b, a rocky exoplanet very similar to Earth in size and mass, circles a red dwarf star. GJ 1132b is relatively cool (about 450 degrees F) and could potentially host an atmosphere.

Venus has a twin planet that isn’t Earth.

Astronomers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found an exoplanet – a type of planet that orbits a star that isn’t the Sun – thirty-nine light years from Earth, which makes it close enough to be easily studied.

The planet, called GJ 1132b, is hot enough that it wouldn’t be able to support life. But the exoplanet’s hot surface and rocky atmosphere has still led astronomers to draw some comparisons to a planet in our solar system.

"Our ultimate goal is to find a twin Earth, but along the way we've found a twin Venus," astronomer David Charbonneau, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a Harvard press release. "We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can't wait to get a whiff."

It’s 500 degrees Fahrenheit on GJ 1132b, and, like the Earth’s own moon, is tidally locked, meaning that it holds a fixed position in relation to the star that it orbits.

“A world with a permanent day side and a permanent night side is going to look very different from the terrestrial planets that we have in our solar system,” Zachory K. Berta-Thompson, who led the team that spotted the planet, told The Christian Science Monitor in a recent interview.

The astronomers discovered the exoplanet as part of a larger MIT MEarth study, which is searching for exoplanets orbiting nearby M dwarf stars. The astronomers found GJ 1132b using array observations from the MEarth South telescope, located in Chile.

“We pointed our telescope at a relatively small, relatively nearby star and we noticed a little dip in light. That dip in brightness comes from the planet passing in front of its host star as seen from Earth,” Dr. Berta-Thompson told the Monitor.

The astronomers believe that this discovery holds big potential for future scientific discoveries, and are planning continued observation of both GJ 1132b and nearby M dwarf planets in order to determine if GJ 1132b has any relatives.

“This planet is going to be a favorite target of astronomers for years to come,” Dr. Berta-Thompson said in the Harvard release.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Venus twin' excites astronomers
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today