New Exoplanets Discovered Near Solar System, One Could Have Liquid Water

James Marshall
March 13, 2018

It's been theorized that planetary formation has to do with the metal content of a star, and this new discovery seems to back this up. Of the three super-Earths, K2-155d-the outermost planet-has a radius 1.6 times that of Earth and could be within the host star's habitable zone.

Chances of finding alien life in new exoplanets discovered keep increasing as more exoplanets are found that may have the right conditions.

Now, in a boost to their search, scientists have discovered 15 new planets - including one "super-Earth" that could harbour liquid water - orbiting small, cool stars near our solar system. Located about 200 light years away, it is orbited by three "super-Earths" - planets that are slightly more massive than the Earth. "The few planets with a radius about three times that of Earth were found orbiting the most metal-rich red dwarfs", Hirano noted. The results show a "radius gap", or a dip in the number of stars with a radius between 1.5-2.0 times that of Earth.

Research for the study was published in The Astronomical Journal, as two papers.

The studies analysed the data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope on its K2 mission.

K2-155d could potentially have liquid water on its surface based on the three-dimensional global climate simulations. Researchers will probably use interferometry technique to study these distant exoplanets for more information. Previously, the radius gap between planets and their host star in a solar-type system was reported, however, it was just not that scientists were able to comprehend a similar radius gap between planets and its host star in a red dwarf system which is because of lack of giant planets located in this system.

Fifteen of the 16 exoplanets studied circled around red dwarf stars. Planets like Jupiter and Saturn are believed to have grown so large because their atmosphere had room to expand, and as such, it makes sense that a red dwarf might not provide the adequate environment for this process to take place. That smaller mass means that they don't burn as hot as the Sun and emit less than 5 percent as much light as the Sun. During simulations conducted based on the data obtained from the planet, it is assumed that the planet might have an atmosphere similar to Earth, however, there is no confirmation available yet. Red dwarfs typically have a small number of planets, and these tend to be smaller than those found in orbit around larger stars.

As scientists noted, they were interested in celestial bodies revolving around stars that are not like our Sun and red dwarfs, which are small and boring stars with a bigger lifespan. That means the only side of the planet faces the star.

Given the proximity to the star, it is also worrying that red dwarfs emit stellar flares. Photoevaporation which is a phenomenon when the host star strips away the atmosphere of the planet transiting around it.

Conditions such as these make it more hard to predict whether or not red dwarf systems will be able to sustain life.

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