Published: Fri, December 08, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Super-Earth Discovers Sign of Extraterrestrial life

Super-Earth Discovers Sign of Extraterrestrial life

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. 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. 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. And in February, yet another science team announced the planet TRAPPIST-1 hosts seven rocky planets, including some that may be in the habitable zone.

Ryan Cloutier, of the University of Montreal, said: "Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting".

However, not much was known about the exoplanet earlier, particularly about its composition, which is the reason researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Montreal chose to find out whether K2-18b is a rocky scaled-up version of Earth or a gassy object like Neptune.

The researcher, who had set a goal to discover a new exoplanet for his thesis, made the discovery by scouring data collected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

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The dataset used by Cloutier, the lead author, and other researchers came from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) using the ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory, in Chile.

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

"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. In the process, they discovered that the planet also has a massive neighbor.

"With the current data, we can't distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier said.

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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. 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.

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.

"K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study, it's going to the near top of the list", he said.

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