'Super-Earth' discovery excites US scientists

An artist's impression of the new planet discovered (M.Weiss/ CfA)
An artist's impression of the new planet (M.Weiss/ CfA)

American scientists have discovered a new planet, deemed a 'super-Earth', which they say could be the most likely planet to find signs of life beyond our own.

The planet with the catchy name LHS 1140b is 39 light years away and around five billion years old, long enough for life to have evolved.

The discovery was from scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.

Lead scientist Dr Jason Dittmann says it's "the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade".

Like Earth, it's rocky and has the right temperatures for water, meaning it has the right habitat for life, according to the paper published in Nature.

"We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science - searching for evidence of life beyond Earth," said Dr Dittman.

By measuring how much light this planet blocks, the team of analysts determined that the planet it is about 17,500km in diameter  about 40 percent larger than Earth. It also potentially weighs about 6.5 times more.