If NASA’s collection of more than 5,000 exoplanets were a zoo, you’d find every nook and cranny of Jupiter, every nook and cranny, and rainwater worlds with no water laid out at the entrance. You’d encounter hellish landscapes behind barren paths and perhaps a pop-up exhibit of an ocean planet born of Poseidon’s rage. But if this zoo really did mimic life, you’d probably see most scientists put in a room with all the “normal-sounding” planets. Points that look like Earth, the most reliable places to support life. (Well, life as we know it, at least).
NASA’s Exoplanet Division, for example, calls Trappist-1 the most studied planetary system other than our own. It is very Earth-y, containing seven rocky worlds with the potential to hold water.
“It is important to discover as many soft terrestrial worlds as possible to study the diversity of exoplanetary climates and eventually be in a position to measure how often biology has emerged in the cosmos,” Amary Triaud, professor of of exoplanetology at the University. from Birmingham, a statement said.
As such, on Wednesday, Triaud, along with a crew of international astronomers, reported the exciting discovery of two more
soft, earthy muses to explore. About 100 light-years from Earth, this planetary pair orbits a star called Speculoos-2 — yes, like a cookie — named for the telescopes that determined their existence: the Search for Habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-cool Stars project. Details of the researchers’ results will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“The goal of Speculoos is to search for potentially habitable terrestrial planets that transit some of the smallest and coolest stars in the solar neighborhood, such as the planetary system Trappist-1, which we discovered in 2016,” Michaël Gillon, from University of Liege. and principal investigator of the Speculoos project, said in a statement. Such planets are particularly suitable for detailed studies of their atmospheres and for searching for possible chemical signatures 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 Satellite, but only when Speculoos intervened in the field did scientists gain 100% certainty that this planet was indeed a planet.
Then, after some analysis, the team concluded that the world, called LP 890-9b, is about 30% larger than Earth and completes an orbit around its shared star every 2.7 days.
“A follow-up with ground-based telescopes is often necessary to confirm the planetary nature of discovered candidates and to refine measurements of their sizes and orbital properties,” Laetitia Delrez, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Liège and lead author of the paper. , said in a statement.
The other planet, called LP 890-9c, was a little more mysterious. It was previously unknown. But after some testing and data analysis, the team realized that the world is about 40% larger than Earth and has an orbital period of about 8.5 days – slightly longer than that of its sister.
That orbital period is pretty exciting, though, because researchers say it means the exoplanet is physically in the “habitable zone” of its star. The habitable zone simply refers to the region around a star that is neither too hot nor too cold to hold liquid water for billions of years. Sometimes, the range is aptly referred to as the Goldilocks zone. “This gives us a license to observe more 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 that information, it will reveal an answer to the biggest question of all: Are we completely alone in the cosmos?
But don’t worry too much. That’s likely a long way from now. You can find me at the exoplanet zoo until then, perhaps checking out the non-spherical planet exhibit. This is shaped like a rugby ball. Isn’t that the weirdest thing?