Science

'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified”

In order to figure out whether K2-18b was a scaled-up version of Earth (mostly rock), or a scaled-down version of Neptune (mostly gas), researchers had to first figure out the planet's mass, using radial velocity measurements taken with HARPS. The same researchers also found out that this planet is not alone there; in fact, it has a neighbor.

While K2-18b and its newly discovered super-Earth nextdoor, K2-18c, are both roughly the same mass as Earth, their similarites may end there.

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.

An worldwide team of astronomers has found that a little-known exoplanet called K2-18b could be a scaled-up version of Earth, and also discovered the planet has a massive neighbor, K2-18c.

With more than 3,000 exoplanets confirmed by NASA at this point, you might wonder what's so special about finding another one-but it's an incredibly rare phenomenon to confirm an exoplanet, let alone to find two super-Earths sitting right next to each other light years away from 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, of the University of Montreal, as reported in the Daily Mail.

K2-18b is located 111 light years away from Earth and orbits within its star's habitable zone, meaning it could hold water in liquid form on its surface. Now the researchers have exhausted the data set collected by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). "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.

Using a machine-learning approach the researchers were able to determine that K2-18b was either a rocky planet with a bigger gaseous atmosphere than Earth or a water planet with a thick layer of ice on top of it.

"Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet". "But with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) we can probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it's a planet covered in water".

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Mr Cloutier noticed odd signals, which the researchers realised was a second exoplanet. Study co-author Rene Doyon says that K2-18b will be a prime candidate for the new telescope's atmospheric studies of distant planets once it comes online.



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