As well as taking one giant leap closer to finding a potentially habitable exoplanet, the team also uncovered a second Earth-like planet orbiting K2-18. The exoplanet was found to be in the star's habitable zone, meaning it could have liquid water on its surface, a necessary ingredient for life as we know it.
Cloutier collaborated with an global team of researchers, including his supervisor U of T Scarborough Associate Professor Kristen Menou, and from the Observatoire Astronomique de l'Université de Genève, the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx), Université de Grenoble and Universidade do Porto. This solid planet which could be a scaled up version of Earth revolves around its star in the comfortable zone that indicates that it may be covered in liquid water and can be a planet with alien life.
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Using data collected by the European Southern Observatory, researchers from Canada's University of Toronto and Université de Montréal were studying the mass and density of the little-known planet K2-18b, which was discovered back in 2015.
The K2-18b researchers used data from the prolific planet-finding High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
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They found that the planet is probably mostly rocky with a gaseous atmosphere - like Earth, only more significant, however, it may be a predominantly water planet with a thick layer of ice, so further investigation is needed.
"With the current data, we can't distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier added.
By collecting so-called "radial velocity" data on K2-18, the scientists were able to estimate the size of K2-18b. In 2019, the powerful James Webb Space Telescope will allow researchers to peer deeper into outer space.
"Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet", he said.
Engineers inspect the James Webb Space Telescope after cryogenic testing in Houston, November 19, 2017. In addition to two regular signals - one every 39 days from the star's rotation and the other every 33 days from the planet's orbit - the researchers found a third signal occurring every nine days. "And from how far away it is from the star, it gives you an idea of how hot the surface of this planet might be", Cloutier told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.