Researchers from the University of montreal discovered two ” Super-Earths “

News 7 December, 2017
  • Photo: Alex Borsema
    This artistic representation shows the planet K2-18b (in the foreground), the planet K2-18c (center), as well as the star around which they orbit, the red dwarf K2-18.

    Catherine Montambeault

    Wednesday, 6 December 2017 19:22

    Wednesday, 6 December 2017 19:22

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    Scientists led by a researcher from the University of Montreal have discovered two Earth-like planets, one of which may currently host of extraterrestrial life.

    The two new planets, K2-18b and K2-18c, are very similar orbit around the same star, the red dwarf K2-18. The second, however, is much closer to its sun, making it too hot to be inhabited.

    This is K2-18b steals the show, since its surface may be covered with liquid water, an essential element for life as we know it.

    The researchers cannot say, for the moment, if the human race could live there. But anyway, this planet is located at 111 light-years from Earth, is much too far for you to travel.

    For comparison, a light year corresponds to about 9500 billion kilometres. The human has never set foot on a celestial body further away than the Moon, which is about 380,000 kilometers from us.

    “The more we find planets potentially habitable, the more it tells us that they are not so rare,” says Ryan Cloutier, principal investigator and a phd candidate at the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx) of the University of Montreal.

    “So even if you will never surrender on K2-18b, its discovery allows us to have a more accurate idea of the number of habitable planets in the universe. “

    A stroke of luck

    K2-18b was brought to light for the first time in 2015. But it is by studying its mass recently that an international team of scientists has learned that this planet was not only potentially habitable, but that it had also a neighbour.

    “We intended to investigate the first planet, the one we knew who was there, […] and we had the chance to fall on another!” launches the main author of the article, to be published soon in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    The two planets in the constellation of the Lion are now considered as Super-Earths, because their mass is greater than that of our planet.

    Made of rock or water

    Now that the researchers know the mass of the K2-18b, it remains to be determined if it is a rocky planet with an envelope gas as the Earth, or a planet primarily composed of water and covered with a thick layer of ice.

    They will be able to know when the James Webb space telescope, the most complex and the most powerful ever built, will enter service in the spring of 2019.

    Up to now, 3564, exoplanets (planets located outside the solar system) have been formally detected and 4496 are awaiting confirmation. Out of this number, fifty are potentially habitable.