Researchers have discovered a new “Super Earth” planet that they think it could hold many of the key ingredients for alien life.
It turns out that the rocky planet which could be a “scaled up version of Earth”, orbits its star in the habitable zone, implying that it may be covered in liquid water and be swarming with life.
Researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Montreal made the planet a key candidate due to its rocky makeup and distance from its star.
According to the analysis of the makeup of the planet, which was made by measuring the effect it has on its star’s velocity, indicates that it is likely to have a rocky composition and a gassy atmosphere just like our Earth.
Experts used the European Southern Observatory telescope to observe the composition of K2-18b and also discovered its sister planet K2-18c, although its orbit means it is less likely to support life.
One of the researchers from University of Montreal, Ryan Cloutier, said: “Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting.”
The researchers also revealed that the planet orbits a star 111 light years away from earth in the Leo constellation. Researchers are already excited as they make plans to study it further as humans continue our search for the first contact.
This rocky planet presents a unique opportunity for investigation when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2019.
Researcher Professor René Doyon said: “There's a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at.
“K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study, it's going to the near top of the list."
The most distant events and objects in the universe are observable in the greatest clarity using the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope enables scientists to view objects beyond the range of our current space-based instruments, including Hubble Telescope.
This comes in stark contrast to NASA’s discovery of a giant “death planet” with a poisonous atmosphere which “defies expectations”.
Identified as Wasp-18b, the planet has a toxic atmosphere making it impossible for it to support life with an upper atmosphere swamped by toxic carbon monoxide.
The study was led by NASA’s Kyle Sheppard who said: “The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations.
“We don’t know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere.”
This discovery remains unique among those observed by humans with NASA previously believing such a world could not exist. This implies that it could redefine the way scientists think gas giants form.