Research

A 'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

A 'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

"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.

The planet known as K2-18b, being described as "Super-Earth" orbits within the Goldilocks zone or habitable zone of a red-dwarf star and is in the Leo constellation.

Renewed interest in K2-18b after its initial discovery is the result of new research that determined the planet was both larger than Earth, and likely rocky, which is enough to classify it as a "Super Earth".

SCIENTISTS have discovered a supersized version of Earth that could host life on a distant galaxy. 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.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to give a friendly wave to potentially new pals over on K2-18b, in the hope that they will like us, and not want to death-ray us out of existence. A recently discovered planet named Super Earth unveiling that it could hold numerous critical components of alien life.

The dataset used by Cloutier 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.

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They found that the planet is probably mostly rocky with a gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, only more significant, however, it may be a predominantly water planet with a thick layer of ice, so further investigation is needed.

"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.

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

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

The discovery of a second planet in the K2-18 star system was something of a good fortune. K2-18b offers a unique chance for research when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2019. In addition to a signal occurring every 39 days from the rotation of K2-18, and one taking place every 33 days from the orbit of K2-18b, he noticed a different signal occurring every nine days.

The newly discovered planet is closer to its star, meaning it is likely to be too hot to support life. "But whether or not there is surface water, we're going to have to do some follow up observations to figure that out for sure, because right now we just don't know".