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07 December 2017, 07:19 | Lucia Cruz
U of T researcher finds Earth-like conditions in little-known exoplanet – and discovers a new planet
The lead author Ryan Cloutier, from the University of Montreal, stated that being able to cover the mass and density of K2-18b was enormous but to find a new exoplanet was fortunate and equally exciting.
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.
Researchers have learned that a faraway exoplanet known as K2-18b may be a rare "super-earth" composed of rock, startingly similar planet Earth, according to a new study.
Their findings - detailed this week in the journal Astrophysics and Astronomy - proved the exoplanet is a scaled-up Earth, not a scaled-down Neptune. The planet is also a super-Earth, but likely orbits too close to its parent star to have liquid water on its surface.
The new study, by researchers at the University of Texas, Scarborough, and University of Montreal, Canada, was carried out using data from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
Of course in addition to discovering K2-18b, the team also discovered that it has a sibling. A recently discovered planet named Super Earth unveiling that it could hold numerous critical components of alien life. Located in the Leo constellation, about 111 lightyears away from Earth, the Super-Earth planet was first discovered in 2015.
"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", Cloutier said.
"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 Cloutier. Radial velocities can reveal slight wobbles caused by the pull of an exoplanet's gravity on its host star.
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They found that the planet is probably mostly rocky with a gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, only bigger - however it may be a mostly water planet with a thick layer of ice, so further investigation is needed.
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.
They're clearly more interested in K2-18b, with researchers saying the planet will be a prime target for Nasa'sJames Webb Space telescope, which will launch in 2019.
Engineers inspect the James Webb Space Telescope after cryogenic testing in Houston, November 19, 2017.
Researcher Professor René Doyon said that there's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be accurate in picking which exoplanets to look at.
By collecting so-called "radial velocity" data on K2-18, the scientists were able to estimate the size of K2-18b.
"When we first threw the data on the table we were trying to figure out what it was".
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