A little-known planet about 111 light years away could be a “scaled-up version of Earth” and may be able to host alien life, according to a study. The exoplanet known as K2-18b has been described as being a potential ‘Super-Earth’ — a large rocky planet with the potential to support life.
Researchers at University of Toronto in Canada made the discovery by scouring data collected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). They also discovered a new planet in the same solar system. Both planets orbit K2-18, a red-dwarf star located about 111 light-years away in the constellation Leo.
“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 Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student at University of Toronto. When the planet K2-18b was first discovered in 2015, it was found to be orbiting within the star’s habitable zone, making it an ideal candidate to have liquid surface water, a key element in harbouring conditions for life as we know it.
“It was not a eureka moment because we still had to go through a checklist of things to do in order to verify the data,” said Cloutier, lead author of the study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. “K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study, it is going to the near top of the list,” Rene Doyon, from Universite de Montreal Institute in Canada, added.