Published: Thu, December 07, 2017
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Pair of super-Earths found orbiting star K2-18

Pair of super-Earths found orbiting star K2-18

"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", said Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

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.

Researchers have just discovered a new planet 111 light years away - and in the process they realized a previously discovered planet nearby might be what's known as a "Super Earth". Alien life! The remote exoplanet is outside our solar system, of course, its similarities to Earth are nevertheless impressive. First discovered back in 2015, the planet is thought to lie within its star's habitable zone, and if it does indeed have a rocky core as scientists believe, it may well have liquid water on its surface.

The large rocky exoplanets were discovered using data collected by the European Southern Observatory's HARPS instrument.

Researchers at the Centre for Planetary Sciences have found that K2-18b could very well be a scaled-up version of Earth.

As for the neighbouring planet K2-18c, the researchers concluded that it was quite close to the sun and therefore uninhabitable due to high temperatures, but like the K2-18b it is also a Super-Earth.

They orbit a red dwarf star 111 lightyears away - or 625,000,000,000,000,000 miles away - in the Leo constellation.

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"It wasn't a eureka moment because we still had to go through a checklist of things to do in order to verify the data".

Trying to find out whether the planet is more like a scaled-down version of Neptune made mostly of gas, or a scaled-up version of Earth made mostly of rock, the researchers used radial velocity measurements of its star, and a machine learning calculator. Radial velocities can reveal slight wobbles caused by the pull of an exoplanet's gravity on its host star.

"With the current data, we can not distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier said.

"Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet", he said.

Researchers will have to wait until 2019 to confirm the atmospheric conditions of K2-18b, when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch.

Just last month, space boffins said they had found another "Super Earth". James Webb Space Telescope is created to observe some of the most distant events and object in the cosmos in the most exceptional clarity.

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". 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.

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