‘Weird’ new planet with unknown atmosphere helps in ‘hunt for alien life’

Scientist have discovered a new "weird" planet that could help provide answers in the search for alien life and extraterrestrials in space.

Planet TOI-1231 b, which orbits a red-dwarf star similar to our sun, is some 90 light-years away from Earth and is one of the “coolest” and comparatively small planets known to date.

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of New Mexico believe that there may be evidence of clouds in the planet's atmosphere, possibly even made of water.

NASA JPL scientist Jennifer Burt said: "TOI-1231 b is one of the only other planets we know of in a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will let us determine just how common (or rare) it is for water clouds to form around these temperate worlds."

Scientists claim TOI-1231 b is more than three-and-a-half times as big as Earth with temperatures on the planet at a relatively similar 57C.

While the newly-found rock sits nearer to its equivalent sun, it is windier than the Earth's, which is why the atmosphere is so strikingly similar.

According to NASA, although the planet is not habitable due to its size, the knowledge gained from the temperate Neptune-sized exoplanet could deepen knowledge of planetary systems.

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Burt said "One of the most intriguing results of the last two decades of exoplanet science is that, thus far, none of the new planetary systems we’ve discovered look anything like our own solar system.

"They’re full of planets between the size of Earth and Neptune on orbits much shorter than Mercury’s, so we don’t have any local examples to compare them to.

"This new planet we’ve discovered is still weird – but it’s one step closer to being somewhat like our neighbourhood planets.

"Compared to most transiting planets detected thus far, which often have scorching temperatures in the many hundreds or thousands of degrees, TOI-1231 b is positively frigid," she added.

Diana Dragomir, assistant professor in UNM's Department of Physics and Astronomy added further study is needed.

The research will understand what the exoplanet is composed of, and aid researchers in finding out how planets form differently around M dwarfs in comparison to the planets around our sun.

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