Porto (Portugal) – Using the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, astronomers have discovered several planets around “L 98-59”, a star which is only 35 light years away. What the researchers discovered is a water world, a planet half the mass of Venus and another possible planet orbiting the star within a distance that could support life.
“The planet in the habitable zone may have an atmosphere that could protect and support life,” says María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astronomer at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and one of the authors of the study recently published in Astronomy & Astrophysics (DOI: 10.1051 / 0004-6361 / 202140728).
The results are an important step in the search for extraterrestrial life on earth-sized planets outside the solar system. The discovery of life on an exoplanet depends on the ability to study its atmosphere, but current telescopes are not large enough to achieve the resolution required for small planets. Because of this, the planetary system around “L 98-59” is an attractive target for future observations of the atmospheres of exoplanets that are close enough to the star to be able to support life.
With the help of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the scientists also succeeded in discovering that three of the planets may contain water, which might be found on the surface or in their atmosphere. The other two planets closest to the star are probably dry, but could possibly contain small amounts of water. The third planet could consist of up to 30% water and thus would be a water world. Additionally the researchers discovered “hidden” exoplanets that had not been seen before in this planetary system. A fourth planet and suspect that there is a fifth that is within the habitable zone, which would make it the right distance, so that liquid water can exist on its surface.
“We, as a society, have been chasing terrestrial planets since the birth of astronomy and now we are finally getting closer and closer to the detection of a terrestrial planet in the habitable zone of its star, of which we could study the atmosphere.” says Olivier Demangeon, the lead author of this new study from the University of Porto in Portugal.
The team hopes to do additional studies of this systemm with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.