Potentially Habitable Exoplanet K2-18b Found To Have Super-Earth Neighbor

Potentially Habitable Exoplanet K2-18b Found To Have Super-Earth Neighbor

The two planets orbit a star called K2-18, which is a red dwarf star (dimmer and smaller than our sun) lying about 111 light-years from Earth.

The planet could have water on it, like Earth.

Scientists combed the skies with the European Southern Observatory's planet-hunting HARPS device in Chile. While combing through their data, researchers discovered that K2-18b was situated right next to yet another super-earth, a newly discovered exoplanet named K2-18b that scientists believe is also roughly the same mass as Earth. Sitting within the habitable zone of the star, astronomers have been investigating whether or not it could support life. That means that a satellite or manned mission traveling to K2-18b would take over 2.3 million years to get there.

Using the fiber-optic HARPS technology, the astronomers watched the changing position and speed of stars. "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. This kind of movement can indicate that a star is being pulled by the gravitational force of orbiting planets.

The second planet popped up when Cloutier noticed a different signal in the data than from K2-18b, which orbits its star every 33 days. Alternatively, the planet could be made up of water encased in a thick crust of ice. In 2015, another research team discovered the planet K2-18b and noted that it lies with the habitable zone. This super-Earth-K2-18c-unfortunately, is a much poorer candidate for life.

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Over the years, she has appeared in a few reality television shows, including as a contestant on Celebrity Boxing in 2002. Championships (a competition Harding consequently won).

The identification of two new super-Earths, however, is still a significant advance for astrophysics.

"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", said Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student in University of Toronto Scarborough's Centre for Planetary Science. In 2019, the powerful James Webb Space Telescope will allow researchers to peer deeper into outer space.

"There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at", says René Doyon, a co-author on the paper who is with Université de Montréal Institute and a principal investigator for NIRISS, which is the Canadian Space Agency instrument on board the James Webb Space Telescope.

To determine whether K2-18b was a scaled-down version of Neptune, composed largely of gas, or a scaled-up version of Earth, made up mostly of rock, researchers first had to find out the mass of the planet, making use of the radial velocity measurements data gathered by HARPS.

Wasp-18b's remarkably close orbit to its star and lack of an Ozone adds to the unfriendly environment of the planet which is ten times larger than our solar system's most prominent, Jupiter.

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