Scientists Think They Found a 'Super Earth' Outside Our Solar System

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

K2-18 is a red dwarf star in the constellation Leo and K2-18b was discovered in 2015. Unlike its neighbor, the newly discovered exoplanet is situated much closer to its star, likely putting it just outside the habitable zone, and as a result, likely doesn't possess liquid water on its surface. 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. In the new findings, the Canadian team learned that the rocky planet is about 2.5 times bigger than Earth and orbits the sun once every 33 days.

The lead author Ryan Cloutier, from the University of Montreal, stated that being able to cover the mass and density of K2-18b was enormous but to find a new exoplanet was fortunate and equally exciting. However, scientists weren't sure whether the planet had a rocky or terrestrial surface like Earth or if it was more like a Neptune kind of planet, which consists of gas and ice.

To perform the research, Cloutier, followed by his team of researchers, took the data from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher in the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla Observatory in Chile.

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Cloutier noticed something unusual. K2-18b, scientists say, could be in an excellent location for alien life to emerge-having ideal conditions for surface water, a fundamental ingredient for life, to exist. The analysis of the radial velocity measurements also helped them discover another planet revolving around K2-18.

Recently a new research has revealed that an exoplanet, named K2-18b, could very well be a larger version of our home planet Earth and it also has excellent possibilities of harboring alien life. "But with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), we can probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it's a planet covered in water".

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JWST is NASA's successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is now scheduled to be launched in spring 2019.

An artist's impression of the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2019.

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 second planet is about the same size as its sister, but orbits closer to the star, likely making it too hot to be livable.

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.

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