A team of astronomers has discovered a rocky, Earth-sized planet that is practically in our cosmic backyard.

The MEarth Project, operated by a team of scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, recently announced the discovery of the GJ1132b, a rocky planet that is approximately 1.2 times the size of Earth. The MEarth Project searches for and studies exoplanets, which are any planets that orbit a star that is not the sun.

The newly discovered planet has a surface temperature of approximately 226 C – about half that of Venus. It is also only 39 lightyears away – three times closer to Earth than the next nearest planet.

Paul Delaney, professor of physics and astronomy at York University, says that, because the planet is “just around the corner,” it is much easier to study than other known rocky planets. It also provides the first opportunity for astronomers to study the atmosphere of a rocky planet outside the solar system.

“We’ve got all sorts of exoplanets out there, but the further away they are, the harder it is to be able to use our … telescopes, to get really good detailed information about them,” Delaney said.

Delaney said that, because the planet is so close, it’s relatively bright and orbiting a star that is “quite faint by stellar standards, meaning that it will not wash out the information from the planet nearly as easily.”

Scientists say high-powered telescopes will allow them to peer into this planet’s atmosphere, and search for the possibility for life.

“When all is said and done, we’ll be able to get a lot more insight into a Venus-like planet, than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Delaney said.

He added that astronomers are trying to figure out if the smaller exoplanets are “similar to the ones that we’re expecting from our own solar system.”

The planet was discovered by the MEarth team using a 40-centimetre telescope in Chile. Since exoplanets are typically difficult to see from Earth, scientists use the small telescopes to look for periodic “dimming” of a star, which indicates that a exoplanet is passing by and blocking the star’s light.

“It just goes to show you how well we are able to observe these planets now, compared to even 10 years ago,” Delaney said.

The scientists documented the discovery of the planet, which happened on May 11, 2015, with a time-lapse video.

A report describing the discovery appears in the November issue of Nature Magazine.