K2-18b as it’s been named, a little-known planet discovered by astronomers could by a lot like Earth, only a Super-Earth, and it has a twin.
Yet another large rocky planet with the potential to support alien life has been found by astronomers. It orbits its own star within a “habitable zone” meaning there could be liquid water on its surface to support life as we know it.
Scientists also discovered for the first time that the planet has a neighbor, called K2-18c. The planets orbit the red-dwarf star K2-18, 111 light years from Earth in the Leo constellation.
The first planet, K2-18b was discovered using the European Southern Observatory’s planet-hunting HARPS device in Chile, in 2015. The second planet hiding behind it was just recently discovered. Researcher do not yet know if the planet is gaseous like Jupiter, or a rocky planet like Earth. They will have to wait until 2019 to confirm the atmospheric conditions of K2-18b, when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch.
“There’s a lot of demand to use this telescope, so you have to be meticulous in choosing which exoplanets to look at,” said study co-author René Doyon. “K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study, it’s going to the near top of the list.”
There are several new telescopes and radio devices being utilized now to look for life-supporting planets near our own, and there is an uptick in discoveries before these technologies have even fully been put into use – black budget and highly classified tech notwithstanding – we’ve already discovered thousands of life-supporting planets. NASA reports, for example:
- Candidate exoplanets: 4,496
- Confirmed exoplanets: 2,337
- Confirmed exoplanets less than twice Earth-size in the habitable zone: 30
Then there are the recent discoveries of Trappist-I, and even with news that their atmosphere’s may have been destroyed, we have no way of knowing if life exists on them under different conditions, underground, or with ways to survive harsh atmospheres, since even our own scientists are currently researching how to create civilizations on Mars while its atmosphere is highly inhospitable.
Mars, for example, looks pretty from Earth, with beautiful desert plains accompanied by winds, clouds, and ancient river beds, but there’s no oxygen to breathe. There are wild temperature differences, at least insofar as presenting a climate that humans could endure.
In winter, the poles of Mars reach temperatures of minus 195 degrees F (minus 125 degrees C). A summer day on Mars may warm up to a balmy 70 degrees F (20 degrees C) near the equator, but at night the temperature can plummet to about minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C). This isn’t exactly the kind of weather we’re prepared to live through, let alone try to grow edible food in. There still isn’t consensus on weather Mars has flowing water, or not. First NASA said it did, then they said it didn’t.
Nonetheless, we are planning on supporting life there with atmospheric conditions as they are – so why couldn’t a much more advanced civilization also exist on planets that scientists have deemed unfit for life?
Lead author Ryan Cloutier, from the University of Montreal, said of the most recent pairing of possible life-bearing planets,
“Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting.”
With each new planet we discover, the possibility to find new space neighbors – and an alien civilization – grows larger.