New Planets Discovered Near Solar System

Mindy Sparks
March 13, 2018

"It's important to note that the number of planets around red dwarfs is much smaller than the number around solar-type stars", said Hirano.

A research team led by Teruyuki Hirano of the Department of Earth Sciences and Planets of the Tokyo Institute of Technology validated a few days ago the discovery of 15 new exoplanets in orbit around red dwarfs.

To reach this conclusion, the team sifted through data from NASA Kepler spacecraft's second mission, K2, and follow-up observations using ground-based telescopes, including the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) in Spain.

Of the three planets, the outermost one, K2-155d, sits in the star's Goldilocks Zone - the region in space around a host star which is neither too hot nor too cold, giving it decent conditions of sustainable life. These include three so-called "super-Earths", one of which is believed to have a key ingredient for life - liquid water. Scientists uncovered that this alien world, designated K2-155d, has a radius of 1.6 times that of Earth and could be a super-Earth located within the habitable zone.

One of the primary outcomes of the new research highlighted that the planets surrounding red dwarf stars may have exceptionally similar characteristics to planets orbiting solar system stars. "In our simulations, the atmosphere and the composition of the planet are supposed to be similar to Earth, but there is no guarantee that this is the case", say the scientists.

New Planets Discovered Near Solar System
New Planets Discovered Near Solar System

Researchers ran what is known about the exoplanet through some climate modeling programs and found it has the potential to be habitable, especially if other factors like the absence of major solar flares from K2-155 turn out to also be positive. "Red dwarf systems, especially coolest red dwarfs, are just beginning to be investigated, so they are very exciting targets for future exoplanet research". The team also found a connection between the size of the planets and the amount of metal in the host star - another trend only previously seen in solar-type stars. According to Hirano, the gap is likely due to the lack of large planets in the proximity of host stars, which is caused by photoevaporation, which can strip away the envelop of the planetary atmosphere. So any possible life forms there probably bask on the day-side of the planet in constant sunlight that has a more reddish hue than the yellow glare from our brighter sun.

"Large planets are only discovered around metal-rich stars".

The red dwarf system is an interesting premise that the scientists need to investigate further.

One of the ways this find is unique and exciting from a science point of view is because of the radius gap - a reduced occurrence of planets that have a radius of between 1.5 to 2.0 times that of Earth- that this system exhibits.

According to NASA's latest count, there are 3,706 confirmed exoplanets - worlds orbiting a star other than the Sun - with many more candidates awaiting closer inspection. "This will greatly facilitate tracking observations, including the study of planetary atmospheres and determination of the precise orbit of planets".

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