Published: Fri, December 08, 2017
Health Care | By Alberto Manning

Astronomers Studying 'Super-Earth' Exoplanet Find A Bonus Planet

Astronomers Studying 'Super-Earth' Exoplanet Find A Bonus Planet

The newly discovered world was found when a team of researchers, lead by Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student at the University of Toronto's department of astronomy and astrophysics, was analyzing data collected from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on the K2-18 star system which was found to have a planet - K2-18b - orbiting in 2005. And in February, yet another science team announced the planet TRAPPIST-1 hosts seven rocky planets, including some that may be in the habitable zone. Scientists, aside from two regular signals that they received every 39 days from the star's rotation and every 33 days from the planet's orbit, discovered a third signal which they received every nine days, which was the first indication that there might be another planet close to K2-18b.

The two new planets, K2-18b and K2-18c, are very similar orbit around the same star, the red dwarf K2-18. The team of researchers was attempting to find out more about its size and composition. It was first identified in 2015. HARPS allows for measurements of radial velocities of stars, which can be affected by the presence of nearby planets, to be taken with the highest accuracy now available. The planet orbits within its star's habitable zone, which means it could hold liquid water on its surface - a key factor needed to sustain alien life. But anyway, this planet is located at 111 light-years from Earth, is much too far for you to travel.

For this reason, they concluded the exoplanet could be a "scaled-up version of Earth".

"So if we can detect that wobble, we can infer the presence of a planet, like this super-Earth, and we can actually measure its mass, which is great, because it tells you something about how big the planet is", Cloutier explained.

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However, not much was known about the exoplanet earlier, particularly about its composition, which is the reason researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Montreal chose to find out whether K2-18b is a rocky scaled-up version of Earth or a gassy object like Neptune.

Current technology prevents us from being able to definitively say which one it is but the fact that it could be either is a huge leap forward in our understanding of this distant solar system. In 2019, the powerful James Webb Space Telescope will allow researchers to peer deeper into outer space. They named it K2-18c.

"And so we sort of know that, for this planet, it's got about the right temperature that it could have liquid surface water".

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.

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