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Super Earth : A planet like ours, that may host alien life

08 December 2017
Super Earth : A planet like ours, that may host alien life

Both the planets revolve around the red-dwarf star K2-18, which is 111 light years from Earth. As it was found to be located in K2-18's habitable zone, that led scientists to believe that the planet has liquid water on its surface, which is one of the essential conditions for life that we have today.

Their findings - detailed this week in the journal Astrophysics and Astronomy - proved the exoplanet is a scaled-up Earth, not a scaled-down Neptune. A recently discovered planet named Super Earth unveiling that it could hold numerous critical components of alien life.

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

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.

The so-called super-Earth, a classification of planets named for being about two to four times bigger than our planet, was discovered by a team of astronomers.

They found the planet is mostly rock with a gassy atmosphere, just like earth, but more research is needed to be sure. "But with the James Webb Space Telescope we can probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it's a planet covered in water".

"With the current data, we can't distinguish between those two possibilities", he says. The newly discovered exoplanet also appears to be a super-Earth with more mass than our planet but is way too close to its parent star, something that makes it too hot to be in the potentially habitable zone, unlike its neighbour.

"These are actually the most common type of planet in the universe", Cloutier told CBC News.

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.

In an unexpected surprise, while researching the behavior of K2-18b, astronomers noticed something that they thought might have been signal noise but eventually determined was an entirely new planet orbiting K2-18 much closer than K2-18b does.

Study co-author Professor René Doyon, also from the University of Montreal, added: "There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at".

The Canadian-made Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectograph (NIRISS) is specifically created to probe the atmospheres of exoplanets, and Doyon said that K2-18 is at the top of the list.