nsucurrent.com
nsucurrent.com December 11, 2017


Scientists Discovered A Super-Earth Neighbor Of K2-18b Exoplanet

08 December 2017, 01:47 | Violet Powell

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

A little-known planet beyond the solar system could be a scaled-up version of Earth according to new research. Experts found that the distant exoplanet known as K2-18b, is a super Earth that is likely made up of rock

The K2-18b researchers used data from the prolific planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. 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.

Researchers also found a brand new planet, K2-18c, in the same orbit.

Orbiting within the habitable zone of red dwarf star K2-18, Cloutier says it's more than likely that exoplanet K2-18b has liquid water on its surface. Canadian astronomers on Tuesday found the planet could be made of icy rocks with a gaseous atmosphere similar to Earth.

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Cloutier noticed something unusual. By measuring the radial velocities of stars, which can be influenced by the presence of planets around those stars, HARPS can allow for the detection of the planets around the stars.

Now that the researchers know the mass of the K2-18b, it remains to be determined if it is a rocky planet with an envelope gas as the Earth, or a planet primarily composed of water and covered with a thick layer of ice.

The planet could have water on it, like Earth.




"If you can get the mass and radius, you can measure the bulk density of the planet and that can tell you what the bulk of the planet is made of", said lead author Ryan Cloutier, according to a report in Phys.org.

Astronomers were aware of one of the exoplanets, K2-18b. The K2-18b orbits a star called K2-18 at around 111 light-years away from our planet Earth.

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.

If that weren't exciting enough the team then realised that their newly discovered super-Earth wasn't alone and in fact had a neighbour. The second, however, is much closer to its sun, making it too hot to be inhabited.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2019, will be instrumental in collecting a range of data for studying the solar system, early universe and exoplanets. K2-18b, scientists say, could be in an excellent location for alien life to emerge-having flawless conditions for surface water, a fundamental ingredient for life, to exist.

Cloutier collaborated with an worldwide team of researchers, including his supervisor U of T Scarborough Associate Professor Kristen Menou, and from the Observatoire Astronomique de l'Université de Genève, the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx), Université de Grenoble and Universidade do Porto.



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