Canadian astronomers find 'super-Earth' with potential for extraterrestrial life

Canadian astronomers find 'super-Earth' with potential for extraterrestrial life

Canadian astronomers find 'super-Earth' with potential for extraterrestrial life

Astronomers have discovered not one but two super-Earths surrounding the star K2-18, a red-dwarf located 111 light-years from Earth.

A super-Earth is a planet with a mass higher than Earth but smaller than larger bodies like Uranus and Neptune. A recently discovered planet named Super Earth unveiling that it could hold numerous critical components of alien life.

It also turns away from his own sun that can accommodate life, water on its surface, that is, from where everything begins.

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.

The discovery of the first planet, K2-18b, took place in 2015.

Using the fiber-optic HARPS technology, the astronomers watched the changing position and speed of stars. "Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet". This kind of movement can indicate that a star is being pulled by the gravitational force of orbiting planets. That is, it's made of mostly solid, not gas.

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

As fascinating as this discovery that hints at the possibility of intelligent life beyond our blue ball may sound, the researchers also managed to locate another planet that neighbours the K2-18b, called K2-18c. They named it K2-18c. "And from how far away it is from the star, it gives you an idea of how hot the surface of this planet might be", Cloutier told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.

"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", Ryan Cloutier, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. As per the researchers, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will play a significant role in finding out further information about this super-Earth.

Using data coming from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) which used the ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile, the researchers found that the K2-18b is probably mostly rocky with a gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, only bigger.

"There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at", said study co-author René Doyon. Since K2-18b is likely rocky, this means the planet could have liquid water on its surface, which is one of many conditions for supporting life.

Wasp-18b's remarkably close orbit to its star and lack of an Ozone adds to the unfriendly environment of the planet which is ten times larger than our solar system's most prominent, Jupiter.

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