An international group of astronomers has discovered another “super earth” exoplanet that lies within the constellation Leo. And, while it doesn’t lie within our currently defined habitable zone, they aren’t ruling out its potential to hold life.
Resting within the constellation Leo in K2-18, a red dwarf star system roughly 111 light-years away, lies a newly discovered exoplanet. Astronomers call it a Super Earth. Found using the ESO’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), stumbled upon this planet while exploring an already discovered exoplanet (K2-18b). The findings of this international team of astronomers will be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Supported by the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets, this research team found a “‘warm’ Super Earth named K2-18c, which has a mass of 7.5 ± 1.3 Earth masses, an orbital period of 9 days, and a semi-major axis roughly 2.4 times smaller than K2-18b,” according to Universe Today.
The team had not detected the planet earlier alongside K2-18b because the two exoplanets, while they are within the same system, do not lie on the same orbital plane.
As we discover more and more exoplanets, especially those found to be Earth-like, the question is inevitably raised: “could there be alien life?” But within that question lies another: “what might alien life even look like?”
Recently, scientists discovered bacterial species in Antarctica that survive on air alone. Our understanding of what constitutes life and what life requires to survive is expanding and changing all the time. K2-18c does not lie within what we currently define as the habitable zone, but the possibility for life to exist is still there. According to Ph.D. student Ryan Cloutier, who led the research, “with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) we can probe the atmosphere and see whether it has an extensive atmosphere or it’s a planet covered in water.”
As we continue to learn more about these and other exoplanets, and as we continue to expand our knowledge of what constitutes life, we can get a better idea of what aliens might look like. Some Oxford biologists even suggest that they could look more familiar than we might expect.