Possible alien life may be present on Giant Super Earth, researchers say

Gwen Vasquez
December 8, 2017

Experts discovered the distant exoplanet - known as K2-18b - is a flawless candidate for hosting other life and is made out of rock like Earth.

With that idea, they got insights into the density of K2-18b using radial velocity measurements taken from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher - or the Harps instrument - mounted on European Southern Observatory's (ESO) 3.6m telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The first exoplanet around this star, dubbed K2-18b, was discovered in 2015 by the Kepler Space Observatory.

Both planets orbit a red-dwarf star called K2-18 and fall within the star's habitable zone.

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The researchers, however, did not rule out the possibility of the planet being mostly water with a thick layer of ice. The same researchers also found out that this planet is not alone there; in fact, it has a neighbor. While learning about the potential super-Earth exoplanet - super-Earth meaning it has a mass similar to Earth - scientists discovered that there could be another exoplanet orbiting its same parent star.

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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.

"These are actually the most common type of planet in the universe", Cloutier told CBC News. As per the researchers, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will play a significant role in finding out further information about this super-Earth.

"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.

The Canadian-made Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectograph (NIRISS) is specifically created to probe the atmospheres of exoplanets, and Doyon said that K2-18 is at the top of the list.

While signals from the orbit of K2-18b appeared every 33 days, the signals from the other planet, which has now been named K2-18c, occurred every nine days. "But whether or not there is surface water, we're going to have to do some follow up observations to figure that out for sure, because right now we just don't know". "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.

Cloutier collaborated with an global 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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