Pair of super-Earths found orbiting star K2-18


First discovered back in 2015, the planet is thought to lie within its star's habitable zone, and if it does indeed have a rocky core as scientists believe, it may well have liquid water on its surface. 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. A recently discovered planet named Super Earth unveiling that it could hold numerous critical components of alien life.

Lead researcher Ryan Cloutier, astronomy and astrophysics PhD candidate with the University of Toronto, said it's too early for the team to know whether or not the planet hosts life. After figuring out the mass measurements of the planet, the team of researchers successfully established the fact that K2-18b is either largely a water planet with a thick ice-layer over it or it is essentially a rocky planet with a compact atmosphere full of gases, just like that of Earth, but larger in size.

In the case of the ESO, the data was collected using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) on a telescope in Chile. It couldn't maintain orientation as well as before, but it's "K2" phase still allowed it to spot many exoplanets like K2-18b. Dubbed K2-18c, the planet is also a Super Earth, though because of its proximity to its star it's not likely that liquid water could exist on its surface, which makes it a lot less appealing to humans.

"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", quoted Cloutier as saying.

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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. They also found for the first time that the planet has a friend, named K2-18b. However, it orbits closer to its host star, about 60 per cent the distance of K2-18b. "Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet", said Ryan Cloutier, who had the target of finding at least one new exoplanet during the course of his Ph.D. "But with the James Webb Space Telescope we can probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it's a planet covered in water".

An artist's impression of the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2019.

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.