A new research reveals a distant exoplanet known as K2-18b, which is found to be a potential “Super-Earth” that might support alien life. It also discovered the existence of a second exoplanet that appeared to be a neighboring planet known as K2-18c.
The findings of the study were slated to be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets, according to Universe Today.
Ryan Cloutier, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in U of T Scarborough’s Center for Planet Science, U of T’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Universite de Montreal Institute for Research on exoplanets, said that measuring the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous. However, to discover, a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting.
Both planets orbit a red dwarf star referred to as K2-18, which is located about 111 light-years away in the constellation Leo. K2-18b was first discovered in 2015 and the team found that the planet was orbiting within the star’s habitable zone. With this, it makes the planet an ideal candidate to have liquid surface water, according to Phys.org.
K2-18b is a huge rocky planet and has a mass that is consistent with a terrestrial planet with a gaseous and a water mass fraction that is equivalent to or less than 50 percent. This means it is either a Super-Earth that has a small gaseous atmosphere or “water world” with a thick layer of ice on top.
Meanwhile, they also found evidence for K2-18c, which is a second “warm” Super-Earth. The team also discovered that K2-18c orbits too close to its star for it to be within its habitable zone. They could be further detected through the involvement of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope that is to be launched in 2019.
Cloutier said that with the current data, they cannot distinguish between those two possibilities. However, with the James Webb Space Telescope, they could probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it is a planet covered in water.
Rene Doyon, the principal investigator for the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph and the co-author of the study, said that there is a lot of demand to use this telescope. With this, you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at.
He further said that K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study; it is going to be the near top of the list.