With how vast the universe is, one can conclude that Earth is not the only planet that could sustain life. And new discoveries from September of 2022 support this! Scientists at the University of Liège in Belgium have discovered two “super-Earth” planets, meaning they have conditions and characteristics similar to our home planet.
Both of these planets orbit around LP 890-9, a star 100 light years away from Earth. It is 6 times smaller than the sun and is 50% cooler than the sun.
The first planet, LP 890-9b, was first discovered by TESS, a satellite belonging to NASA, that monitors the brightness of stars and searches for dimmings that could be caused by planets passing in front of them. SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) telescopes confirmed the planet after observing its star with more precision. LP 890-9b is 30% larger than Earth and has an orbital period of 2.7 days, which is very different from Earth’s orbital period of approximately 365 days.
The SPECULOOS telescope also observed LP 890-9c, the second planet. This planet is 40% larger than earth and takes 8.5 days to orbit its star. Though LP 890-9c is closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, it still has a strong possibility of being able to sustain life due to LP 890-9’s size and surface temperature.
These are not the only two planets that could potentially support life. The TRAPPIST-1 system, discovered in 2016, contains 7 rocky planets 40 light years away from us. All of these planets have the potential to hold water on their surfaces in the form of water vapor, liquid water, or ice depending on how close each planet is to the TRAPPIST-1 star. This highly studied set of planets is considered the most habitable, with LP 890-9c in second place.
Image Source: University of Liège
Researcher Laetitia Delrez exclaims that the comparison between the TRAPPIST-1 planets and LP 890-9c does not “consider the fact that LP 890-9c is located close to the inner boundary of the habitable zone and could therefore have an atmosphere that is particularly rich in water vapor, which would then boost its atmospheric signals,” (University of Liège). Delrez continues to explain that LP 890-9c provides a chance to better study and pinpoint the habitable conditions of smaller and cooler stars near our solar system. In the future, ULiège’s research team plans to further investigate LP 890-9c’s atmosphere to understand if it really could hold liquid water on its surface.
If further research leads to confirmation that LP 890-9c or another can support life, this could have tremendous implications. Maybe we aren’t alone in this universe!
A newly discovered planet 40% larger than Earth may be suitable for life https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1121465588/new-planet-super-earth-life-nasa#:~:text=An%20international%20team%20of%20scientists,planets%20like%20Uranus%20and%20Neptune.
SPECULOOS discovers a potentially habitable super-Earth https://www.news.uliege.be/cms/c_16795199/en/speculoos-discovers-a-potentially-habitable-super-earth
Largest Batch of Earth-size Habitable Zone Planets Found Orbiting TRAPPIST-1 https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/trappist1/
By: Julia Grzybowski’24, SNHS Member