Scientists Think They Found a 'Super Earth' Outside Our Solar System

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"Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting", says Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student in U of T Scarborough's Centre for Planetary Science, U of T's department of astronomy and astrophysics in the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Université de Montréal Institute. The Planet K2-18b, as they have already called it, wanders around a star-dwarf and even within the zone where life can develop.

Researchers have learned that a faraway exoplanet known as K2-18b may be a rare "super-earth" composed of rock, startingly similar planet Earth, according to a new study.

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"And so we sort of know that, for this planet, it's got about the right temperature that it could have liquid surface water".

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To do that, Cloutier and his fellow researchers used data from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla Observatory, Chile.

Cloutier collaborated with an global team of researchers, including his supervisor U of T Scarborough Associate Professor Kristen Menou, and from the Observatoire Astronomique de l'Université de Genève, the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx), Université de Grenoble and Universidade do Porto.

As for the neighbouring planet K2-18c, the researchers concluded that it was quite close to the sun and therefore uninhabitable due to high temperatures, but like the K2-18b it is also a Super-Earth.

"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.

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Harps can help determine the mass and radius of a planet to work out its density. However, scientists weren't sure whether the planet had a rocky or terrestrial surface like Earth or if it was more like a Neptune kind of planet, which consists of gas and ice.

The list of targets for the forthcoming telescope is long, but Cloutier and his colleagues think K2-18b is a deserving candidate. K2-18b offers a unique chance for research when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2019.

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. As per the researchers, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will play a significant role in finding out further information about this super-Earth.

"When we first threw the data on the table we were trying to figure out what it was".

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Two years ago, scientists discovered the planet K2-18b, which orbits a red dwarf star, K2-18, in the constellation Leo.

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