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A 'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified
07 December 2017, 07:18 | Justin Tyler
Image credit NASA
"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", stated lead author Ryan Cloutier, an astronomy and astrophysics Ph.D student at the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets.
The researchers discovered that K2-18b, which is now being called super-Earth, and its neighbor planet, both orbit a red dwarf star, named K2-18, which is situated in the constellation Leo, around 111 light years away from Earth, reported UdeMNouvelles - Université de Montréal.
A study has revealed that a little-known planet about 111 light years away could be a "scaled-up version of Earth" and may be able to host alien life.
It orbits within its star's habitable zone, which means there's a chance it could hold liquid water on its surface, which is a key component for the possibility of life as we know it. While learning about the potential super-Earth exoplanet - super-Earth meaning it has a mass similar to Earth - scientists discovered that there could be another exoplanet orbiting its same parent star. Dubbed K2-18c, the planet is also a Super Earth, though because of its proximity to its star it's not likely that liquid water could exist on its surface, which makes it a lot less appealing to humans.
They found that the planet is probably mostly rocky with a gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, only more significant, however, it may be a predominantly water planet with a thick layer of ice, so further investigation is needed.
"Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet", he said. To do so, researchers used the La Silla Observatory in Chile, pulling data sets from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which can detect even very tiny planets that surround stars. HARPS is created to measure radial velocities of stars, which are influenced by the presence of orbiting planets.
"If you can get the mass and radius, you can measure the bulk density of the planet and that can tell you what the bulk of the planet is made of", says Cloutier. James Webb Space Telescope is created to observe some of the most distant events and object in the cosmos in the most exceptional clarity.
The list of targets for the forthcoming telescope is long, but Cloutier and his colleagues think K2-18b is a deserving candidate.
Wasp-18b's remarkably close orbit to its star and lack of an Ozone adds to the unfriendly environment of the planet which is ten times larger than our solar system's most prominent, Jupiter.
"When we first threw the data on the table we were trying to figure out what it was".
To determine whether K2-18b was a scaled-down version of Neptune, composed largely of gas, or a scaled-up version of Earth, made up mostly of rock, researchers first had to find out the mass of the planet, making use of the radial velocity measurements data gathered by HARPS.
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