'Super-Earth' that could host life discovered

James Marshall
December 6, 2017

This solid planet which could be a scaled up version of Earth revolves around its star in the comfortable zone that indicates that it may be covered in liquid water and can be a planet with alien life. The belief that our tiny speck of a planet located in the vast cosmos is not the only source of biological life in the universe has spurred many interplanetary missions to distant planets such as Saturn, Venus, etc.

New research has shown that exoplanet K2-18b, which orbits is parent stat K2-18 some 111 light-years away from Earth, could be a super-Earth. However there is also a possibility that K2-18b is made up mostly of water with a thick layer of ice.

The new study used data collected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which has its headquarters in Munich, Germany.

The faraway exoplanet, which is known as K2-18b, could be a scaled-up version of Earth. The same researchers also found out that this planet is not alone there; in fact, it has a neighbor.

Readings of K2-18 were taken by the telescope's planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (Harps) instrument.

"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, of the University of Montreal, as reported in the Daily Mail. They measured radial velocities of stars, which can reveal the existence of planets located around the measured stars.

On top of that, the radial velocity measurements discovered by HARPS allowed researchers to calculate planets' mass, enabling them to measure their bulk density, and thus whether they are gaseous, rocky, whether they contain water, etc. They found the planets circling the red dwarf star K2-18, which is part of the constellation, Leo. "You have to ensure the signal isn't just noise, and you need to do a careful analysis to verify it, but seeing that initial signal was a good indication there was another planet", Cloutier said in the statement.

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Mr Cloutier noticed unusual signals, which the researchers realised was a second exoplanet.

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

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".

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

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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