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

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

Renewed interest in K2-18b after its initial discovery is the result of new research that determined the planet was both larger than Earth, and likely rocky, which is enough to classify it as a "Super Earth".

Experts discovered the distant exoplanet - known as K2-18b - is a ideal candidate for hosting other life and is made out of rock like Earth.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas, Scarborough, and University of Montreal, Canada, using data from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has found K2-18b orbiting at a habitable distance from its star, making the presence of water on the planet.

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. HARPS allowed the team to track K2-18's radial velocity as K2-18b orbited it.

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It has a bulk density of 3.7g/cm and is either a mostly rocky planet with a small gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, but bigger - or a mostly water planet with a thick layer of ice on top of it.

Their findings - detailed this week in the journal Astrophysics and Astronomy - proved the exoplanet is a scaled-up Earth, not a scaled-down Neptune.

Humans originated here on planet Earth and, all things considered, it's a mighty nice place to be, but we won't be able to stay here forever.

K2-18b was first spotted by the astronomers in 2015.

Figuring out which is actually true will require more observations, perhaps from NASA's high-powered James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2019.

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.

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.

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. They're extremely common. They're so common, in fact, it's possible just to find another one while you're trying to gather data on the one you already knew about.

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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