Potentially Habitable Exoplanet K2-18b Found To Have Super-Earth Neighbor

U of T researcher finds Earth-like conditions in little-known exoplanet – and discovers a new planet

In a significant breakthrough in man's relentless search for life beyond Earth, a new research claims to have found a planet that could host alien life.

The astronomical discovery was made by researchers from the University of Texas and Montreal, who saw that a neighboring planet of the K2-18b (K2-18c) might also be a second "supernatural", as they call it due to similarities with our planet. On top of this, the team also discovered that this planet-K2-18b-has another, similar world hiding behind it.

They found the planet is mostly rock with a gassy atmosphere, just like earth, but more research is needed to be sure.

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.

The astronomers found that K2-18b has a mass about 8 times that of Earth.

They orbit a red dwarf star 111 lightyears away - or 625,000,000,000,000,000 miles away - in the Leo constellation. Since K2-18b is likely rocky, this means the planet could have liquid water on its surface, which is one of many conditions for supporting life.

To do that, Cloutier and his fellow researchers used data from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla Observatory, Chile.

"So if we can detect that wobble, we can infer the presence of a planet, like this super-Earth, and we can actually measure its mass, which is great, because it tells you something about how big the planet is", Cloutier explained.

"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", says Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student in U of T Scarborough's Centre for Planetary Science, U of T's department of astronomy and astrophysics in the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Université de Montréal Institute. Alternatively, the planet could be made up of water encased in a thick crust of ice.

"It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that we noticed something unusual", he said.

According to Cloutier, while the current data does not provide scientists with enough information to be able to narrow those two options down, using the James Webb Space Telescope, which launches in 2019, will allow them to be able to probe the atmosphere and get closer to an answer.

"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.

The James Webb Space Telescope is supposed to be a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and just recently it finished its test that took place in a frigidly cold chamber.

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

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