'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

'Super Earth' that may host alien life identified

While K2-18b and its newly discovered super-Earth nextdoor, K2-18c, are both roughly the same mass as Earth, their similarites may end there.

On top of that, the radial velocity measurements discovered by HARPS allowed researchers to calculate planets' mass, enabling them to measure their bulk density, and thus whether they are gaseous, rocky, whether they contain water, etc. This solid planet which could be a scaled up version of Earth revolves around its star in the comfortable zone that indicates that it may be covered in liquid water and can be a planet with alien life.

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.

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.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to give a friendly wave to potentially new pals over on K2-18b, in the hope that they will like us, and not want to death-ray us out of existence. The exoplanet was found to be in the star's habitable zone, meaning it could have liquid water on its surface, a necessary ingredient for life as we know it.

That is not all, the team of researchers, from the University of Montreal in Canada and the University of Texas in the United States, who conducted the study with data from the European Southern Observatory, also discovered that the planet has a neighbor. They measured radial velocities of stars, which can reveal the existence of planets located around the measured stars.

"It was not a eureka moment because we still had to go through a checklist of things to do in order to verify the data", said Cloutier, lead author of the study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. HARPS used the 3.6m telescope of ESO at La Silla Observatory, in Chile to gather that data.

"It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that we noticed something unusual", he 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.

The next step, according to Cloutier, will be to probe the atmosphere for the presence of water with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, the NASA/ESA/CSA telescope expected to be completed and launched in two years' time.

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

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.

Engineers inspect the James Webb Space Telescope after cryogenic testing in Houston, November 19, 2017.

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