A planet larger than Earth was found and can host extraterrestrial life

Federico Mansilla
Diciembre 7, 2017

With more than 3,000 exoplanets confirmed by NASA at this point, you might wonder what's so special about finding another one-but it's an incredibly rare phenomenon to confirm an exoplanet, let alone to find two super-Earths sitting right next to each other light years away from Earth.

Researchers have discovered that a little-known exoplanet called K2-18b, could in fact be a "scaled up" version of Earth.

The newfound alien world, K2-18c, is also a super-Earth, with a mass about 7.5 times that of Earth. Found orbiting the dwarf star's theoretical habitable zone, the planet became a prime candidate for researchers looking for planets that can theoretically support life.

As for K2-18b's neighbor, K2-18c, data suggests the exoplanet is similar in size and composition but too close to its host star to be in the habitable zone. When we finally decide to make the move, a planet called K2-18b might be our destination. Both the planets revolve around the red-dwarf star K2-18, which is 111 light years from Earth.

It also turns away from his own sun that can accommodate life, water on its surface, that is, from where everything begins.

To measure the mass of K2-18b, Cloutier and his research partners used radial velocities of its host star measured by HARPS.

The team, led by Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student at the University of Toronto's department of astronomy and astrophysics, analysed the data collected from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

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"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.

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.

The second planet popped up when Cloutier noticed a different signal in the data than from K2-18b, which orbits its star every 33 days. Alternatively, the planet could be made up of water encased in a thick crust of ice.

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

JWST is NASA's successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is now scheduled to be launched in spring 2019. James Webb Space Telescope is created to observe some of the most distant events and object in the cosmos in the most exceptional clarity.

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

"There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at", says René Doyon, a co-author on the paper who is with Université de Montréal Institute and a principal investigator for NIRISS, which is the Canadian Space Agency instrument on board the James Webb Space Telescope.

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