Since the discovery of exoplanets, scientists have been able to observe atmospheres on these distant worlds. Most of them are Jupiter-sized and many are Super-Earths as some astronomers have called them. Super-Earths are around eight times the mass of our home world.
Exoplanet GJ 1132b orbits the M-dwarf star GJ 1132 some 39 light-years from Earth. An M-Dwarf is a star with less than 60% the mass of our sun and is the most common type of star found in our galaxy. In our local neighbourhood, 20 of the 30 closest stars fit this category.
What is significant about this planet is that it marks the first time we’ve been able to detect an atmosphere on a planet this small at only 1.6 times our mass.
Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen with a large oxygen component but on this world, researchers say according to their measurements, is likely rich in water vapor or methane giving it a thick Venus-like atmosphere.
The atmospheres of planets are observable via transmission spectroscopy where researchers use instruments to measure the star’s light travelling through the target planet’s atmosphere.
With this new finding, researchers will be focusing on the planet using existing technology and newer technologies that will be launched in the near future like the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS also set to launch no later than 2018.