These two characteristics top the list of things that make another planet worth getting excited about in terms of the odds it might have some sort of critters or even just primitive microorganisms hanging out.
What makes GJ 1002 b and GJ 1002 c worth getting especially excited about right now, though, is the fact that the two earth-mass spots are only 16 light years away from us, and we finally have some next generation observatories online that might be able to take a closer look.
MORE FROM FORBESThe US Military Keeps Spotting UFOs With Inexplicable CapabilitiesBy Eric Mack
NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, which began returning dazzling images last year, could be an ideal tool to target the Gliese 1002 system and look for biosignatures like methane or oxygen in the planets’ atmospheres.
The presence of oxygen or methane alone is no guarantee that life is present as we know it, but it does keep the hope going that it could be there. Looking for E.T. is a game of elimination. Most planets are easy to eliminate from the game because their size, composition or climate makes them inhospitable.
MORE FROM FORBESNASA Telescopes Spot Bizarre Nearby Exoplanets Likely Covered By Water And SteamBy Eric Mack
GJ 1002 b and c stay in the game thanks to their size and potential climate. Taking that closer look with Webb or other instruments may tell us more about its composition. A nice balance of rock and water on the surface boosts the odds that the chemistry to support life is present.
The system may have one thing working against, though. Like Proxima b, the nearest potentially habitable exoplanet, it orbits an M dwarf, a type of star smaller and older than our sun that carries an increased risk of frequent and powerful flaring.
Because it’s a dwarf star, the habitable zone around it is much closer in than our solar system, which means the Earth-like planets in question could be orbiting quite near to a star with a bad habit of blasting out potentially sterilizing radiation.
MORE FROM FORBESSun Unleashes Most Powerful Solar Flare In Five YearsBy Eric Mack
The good news is that GJ 1002 is considered a “quiet” m-dwarf, meaning it is pretty chill on the flaring side for as long as we have observations. But when it comes to harboring life, the more relevant question is whether or not it has been quiet long and consistently enough over billions of years for life to develop.
“GJ 1002 c is a good candidate for atmospheric characterization via High Dispersion Coronagraphy spectroscopy with the future ANDES spectrograph for the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope, currently set to be completed in Chile in 2027).”
There’s already a long list of targets lined up for the Webb Telescope and no word on when or if it might also take a closer look. It is a pretty big universe after all.