In the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists conducted new research which suggests that the exoplanet K2-18b could have a Super-Earth neighbor. 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.
Just last month, space boffins said they had found another "Super Earth".
When the planet K2-18b was first discovered in 2015, it was found to be orbiting within the star's habitable zone, making it an ideal candidate to have liquid surface water, a key element in harbouring conditions for life as we know it.
Astronomers were aware of one of the exoplanets, K2-18b.
The researchers discovered that K2-18b, which is now being called super-Earth, and its neighbor planet, both orbit a red dwarf star, named K2-18, which is situated in the constellation Leo, around 111 light years away from Earth, reported UdeMNouvelles - Université de Montréal. K2-18b, scientists say, could be in an excellent location for alien life to emerge-having flawless conditions for surface water, a fundamental ingredient for life, to exist.
To measure the mass of K2-18b, Cloutier and his research partners used radial velocities of its host star measured by HARPS.
The new study from researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the planet is either a mostly rocky planet with a gaseous atmosphere, just like Earth, or a mostly water planet with a thick layer of ice on top of it.
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"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", stated lead author Ryan Cloutier, an astronomy and astrophysics Ph.D student at the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets.
"It wasn't a Eureka! moment because we still had to go through a checklist of things to do in order to verify the data", Cloutier noted.
"(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".
"With the current data, we can't distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier said.
By collecting so-called "radial velocity" data on K2-18, the scientists were able to estimate the size of K2-18b.
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.
Other researchers on the team are affiliated with the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, France's University of Grenoble, and the University of Porto in Portugal.