A 'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

07 December, 2017, 04:35 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
  • U of T researcher finds Earth-like conditions in little-known exoplanet – and discovers a new planet

Astronomers have identified a distant exoplanet as a "super-Earth" that has the potential to harbor alien life.

Experts discovered the distant exoplanet - known as K2-18b - is a ideal candidate for hosting other life and is made out of rock like Earth.

This artist's concept shows two super-Earth exoplanets, K2-18b and c, orbiting the red dwarf star K2-18.

As fascinating as this discovery that hints at the possibility of intelligent life beyond our blue ball may sound, the researchers also managed to locate another planet that neighbours the K2-18b, called K2-18c.

While K2-18b and its newly discovered super-Earth nextdoor, K2-18c, are both roughly the same mass as Earth, their similarites may end there.

The two planets orbit a star called K2-18, which is a red dwarf star (dimmer and smaller than our sun) lying about 111 light-years from Earth.

"And so we sort of know that, for this planet, it's got about the right temperature that it could have liquid surface water".

The latest study, by scientists at the University of Texas, Scarborough, and the University of Montreal, Canada, was conducted out using the data from the European Southern Observatory.

The K2-18b researchers used data from the prolific planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

"It was not a eureka moment because we still had to go through a checklist of things to do in order to verify the data", said Cloutier, lead author of the study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"(The James Webb Space Telescope) is going to vastly expand that parameter space, expand the number of planets that we can actually make these measurements for, and then I'll be able to tell you something interesting about those exoplanet atmospheres".

Using sophisticated machine-learning techniques, the team figured out the planet could well be an Earth-like planet made mostly of rock and with a gaseous atmosphere.

JWST is NASA's successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is now scheduled to be launched in spring 2019. After figuring out the mass measurements of the planet, the team of researchers successfully established the fact that K2-18b is either largely a water planet with a thick ice-layer over it or it is essentially a rocky planet with a compact atmosphere full of gases, just like that of Earth, but larger in size.

"There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at", said study co-author René Doyon.

In addition to a signal occurring every 39 days from the rotation of K2-18, and one taking place every 33 days from the orbit of K2-18b, they noticed a different signal occurring every 9 days.

"When we first threw the data on the table we were trying to figure out what it was".

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