Two super-Earths discovered 100 light-years away – and one is potentially habitable

If NASA’s collection of more than 5,000 exoplanets were a zoo, you’d find Jupiter lookalikes on every corner and worlds with a waterless rain covering the entrance. You’d stumble upon hellish landscapes behind arid paths and perhaps a pop-up exhibit of an ocean planet born from Poseidon’s daydreams.

But if this zoo really imitated life, you’d probably see most scientists hanging out in a room with all the “normal sounding” planets. Places that look a bit like Earth, the most plausible places to sustain life. (Well, life as we know it, at least).

NASA’s Exoplanets Division, for example, calls Trappist-1 the most studied planetary system besides our own. It’s very Earth-y, containing seven rocky worlds with the potential to hold water.

“It is important to detect as many temperate terrestrial worlds as possible to study the diversity of exoplanet climates, and ultimately to be able to measure the frequency of emergence of biology in the cosmos,” said Amary Triaud, professor of exoplanetology at the university. of Birmingham, said in a statement.

Thus, on Wednesday, Triaud, accompanied by a crew of international astronomers, reported the exciting detection of two other
temperate and earthly muses to explore. About 100 light-years from Earth, this planetary pair orbits a star called Speculoos-2 — yes, like the cookie — named after the telescopes that determined their existence: the Search for Habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-cool project. stars. Details of the researchers’ findings will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

A list of all planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

An alignment of Trappist-1 planets from Trappist-1b in the closest orbit to the star at Trappist-1h. Trappist-1e, f, and g are believed to have the best chance of sustaining life.

NASA-JPL/Caltech

“The goal of Speculoos is to search for potentially habitable terrestrial planets transiting some of the smallest and coolest stars in the solar neighborhood, such as the Trappist-1 planetary system, which we discovered in 2016,” said Michaël Gillon. , from the University of Liège. and principal investigator of the Speculoos project, said in a statement. “Such planets are particularly well suited to detailed studies of their atmospheres and to the search for possible chemical traces of life with large observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.”

Profiles of exoplanets

According to the researchers of the new study, one of the two worlds had already been identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, but it was not until Speculoos stepped in that scientists were 100% certain that this planet was indeed a planet.

Then, after some analysis, the team concluded that the world, named LP 890-9b, is about 30% larger than Earth and completes an orbit around its common star every 2.7 days.

“Follow-up with ground-based telescopes is often necessary to confirm the planetary nature of detected candidates and refine measurements of their sizes and orbital properties,” Laetitia Delrez, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Liège and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

Two white domes are under the sky, on what looks like rocky desert ground.  Here are some of the Speculoos telescopes.

Under the soft light of the Chilean sky bask two domes of the Speculoos Sud Observatory. Comprised of four domes, Speculoos is located at the Paranal Observatory of the European Southern Observatory, which is close to the Very Large Telescope.

ESO/G. Lambert

The other planet, named LP 890-9c, was a bit more mysterious. He was previously unknown. But after some testing and sorting through the data, the team estimated that the world was around 40% larger than Earth and had an orbital period of around 8.5 days, a bit longer than its sibling.

This orbital period is pretty exciting, though, because the researchers say it means the exoplanet is physically located in its star’s “habitable zone.” The habitable zone simply refers to the region around a star that is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain liquid water for billions of years. Sometimes the range is aptly called the Goldilocks area. “It gives us a license to observe further and find out if the planet has an atmosphere, and if so, to study its contents and assess its habitability,” Triaud said.

Hopefully, if NASA’s Webb Telescope can decode some of this information, it will unveil an answer to the biggest question of all: Are we totally alone in the cosmos?

But don’t get too carried away. It’s probably far from here. You can find me at the Exoplanet Zoo there, probably looking at the non-spherical planets exhibit. This one is shaped like a rugby ball. Isn’t that the weirdest?

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