Two Super-Earths Located Just 111 Light-Years From Earth

HARPS Instrument

Alien life! The remote exoplanet is outside our solar system, of course, its similarities to Earth are nevertheless impressive.

An global team of astronomers has found that a little-known exoplanet called K2-18b could be a scaled-up version of Earth, and also discovered the planet has a massive neighbor, K2-18c.

Scientists believe that the discovery of K2-18b's super-Earth neighbor which also orbits the K2-18 star was a thing of good fortune. In addition to two regular signals - one every 39 days from the star's rotation and the other every 33 days from the planet's orbit - the researchers found a third signal occurring every nine days. They also found for the first time that the planet has a friend, named K2-18b. In 2015, another research team discovered the planet K2-18b and noted that it lies with the habitable zone. 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.

It also turns away from his own sun that can accommodate life, water on its surface, that is, from where everything begins.

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The K2-18b researchers used data from the prolific planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

"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 the lead author of the study Ryan Cloutier, who is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy, Université de Montréal Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx) and Scarborough's Centre for Planet Science and Astrophysics.

The list of targets for the forthcoming telescope is long, but Cloutier and his colleagues think K2-18b is a deserving candidate.

"(The James Webb Space Telescope) is going to vastly expand that parameter space, expand the number of planets that we can actually make these measurements for, and then I'll be able to tell you something interesting about those exoplanet atmospheres".

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"With the current data, we can not distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier said.

According to Cloutier, while the current data does not provide scientists with enough information to be able to narrow those two options down, using the James Webb Space Telescope, which launches in 2019, will allow them to be able to probe the atmosphere and get closer to an answer.

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.

"When we first threw the data on the table we were trying to figure out what it was".

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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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