"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", said the lead author of the study Ryan Cloutier, who is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy, Université de Montréal Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx) and Scarborough's Centre for Planet Science and Astrophysics.
While the newly described planet K2-18c is closer to its star and probably too hot to be in the habitable zone, like K2-18b it also appears to be a Super-Earth meaning it has a mass similar to Earth.
In the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists conducted new research which suggests that the exoplanet K2-18b could have a Super-Earth neighbor.
A little-known planet 111 light years away could be a "scaled-up version of Earth" which is able to host alien life, according to new research. 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.
Researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada made the discovery by scouring data collected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
Of course in addition to discovering K2-18b, the team also discovered that it has a sibling. In the process, they discovered that the planet also has a massive neighbor.
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The two planets orbit a star called K2-18, which is a red dwarf star (dimmer and smaller than our sun) lying about 111 light-years from Earth.
The K2-18b researchers used data from the prolific planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
"So if we can detect that wobble, we can infer the presence of a planet, like this super-Earth, and we can actually measure its mass, which is great, because it tells you something about how big the planet is", Cloutier explained.
HARPS measurements provided information on the planet's mass, while the planet's radius was determined by other instruments that measure how much light it blocks from its parent star. "You have to ensure the signal isn't just noise, and you need to do a careful analysis to verify it, but seeing that initial signal was a good indication there was another planet", Cloutier said. In 2019, the powerful James Webb Space Telescope will allow researchers to peer deeper into outer space. They believe that, due to its mass and size, it is either a rocky world like Earth with a gas atmosphere (which would be the most promising) or a water-heavy world covered by a thick layer of ice.
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.
The researchers were trying to determine what K2-18b's surface is made out of in their study.