Scientists Discover Super Earth With Icy Rocks 111 Light Years Away

Super-Earth Neighbor

Since K2-18b is likely rocky, this means the planet could have liquid water on its surface, which is one of many conditions for supporting life.

For this reason, they concluded the exoplanet could be a "scaled-up version of Earth".

Both planets are around 111 light years from Earth so while they're not exactly within a vacationing distance they are still extremely close when thinking about the size of our galaxy.

Trying to find out whether the planet is more like a scaled-down version of Neptune made mostly of gas, or a scaled-up version of Earth made mostly of rock, the researchers used radial velocity measurements of its star, and a machine learning calculator.

"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.

To help determine which one it was the team tried to work out the planet's mass and radius using the ESO's 3.6m telescope at La Silla Observatory, in Chile.

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Cloutier noticed something unusual.

The discovery of a second planet in the K2-18 star system was something of a good fortune. The Planet K2-18b, as they have already called it, wanders around a star-dwarf and even within the zone where life can develop.

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"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.

"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 said. Water, as we know it, is a key component for the possibility of life.

The team is now hoping that when NASA's James Webb telescope is launched in 2019, the exoplanets can be studied in much greater detail.

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.

Engineers inspect the James Webb Space Telescope after cryogenic testing in Houston, November 19, 2017.

Wasp-18b's remarkably close orbit to its star and lack of an Ozone adds to the unfriendly environment of the planet which is ten times larger than our solar system's most prominent, Jupiter.

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.

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