February 4, 2023

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Exoplanets that may consist mostly of water. Discover University of Montreal

Proof that two outer planetswhich orbits a red dwarf star, may be Water worlds“, that is, planets in which water makes up a significant part of their volume, were found by astronomers inUniversity of Montreal, in Canada. Located in a planetary system 218 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, these worlds are unlike any other planet in the solar system. A detailed study of this planetary system, known as Kepler-138, has been published in the journal natural astronomy. “We previously thought that planets that were somewhat larger than Earth were big balls of metal and rock, like enlarged versions of Earth, which is why we called them superplanets,” he said.Or Bjorn BenneckeHead of the research group. However, we have now shown that these two planets, Kepler-138c ed, are very different in nature: it is likely that much of their entire volume is composed of water. This is the first time we have observed planets that can be confidently identified as water worlds. , a type of planet whose existence astronomers have long theorized. Doctoral student Caroline Piaulet of the Trottier Institute for Exoplanet Research (iREx) at the University of Montreal, part of the Bjorn Bencke research group, observed the exoplanets Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d using NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. In his research he found that planets, which are about one and a half times the size of Earth, could be composed largely of water. These planets and the star’s closest planetary companion, Kepler-138b, were previously discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

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Water is not detected directly but by comparison The sizes and masses of the planets With the models, the authors conclude that a good portion of its volume — about half — must be composed of materials lighter than rock but heavier than hydrogen or helium (which make up most gas giant planets, such as Jupiter). . The most common of these filters is water. “Imagine larger versions of Europa or Enceladus, the water-rich moons that orbit Jupiter and Saturn, but come very close to their star,” Piaulet explained. “Instead of an icy surface, Kepler-138c had large envelopes of water vapor.” With sizes over three times that of Earth and masses twice as large, the densities of planets c and d are much less than that of Earth. This is surprising because most of the planets barely larger than Earth that have been studied in detail so far have all looked like rocky worlds. The closest comparison to the two planets, the researchers said, would be some of the icy moons in the outer solar system, which also consist largely of water, surrounding a rocky core. But the authors cautioned that the planets may not have oceans like those on Earth directly on the planet’s surface. But they look more like bubbles of water vapor.

“It is likely that the temperature in the atmospheres of Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d is higher than the boiling point of water,” Piaulet said. This is why we would expect a dense water vapor atmosphere on these planets. Beneath this vapor envelope, there could be high-pressure liquid water, or even water in another phase that occurs at high pressures, called a supercritical liquid. Recently, a University of Montreal team found another planet, called TOI-1452 b, which is likely covered in an ocean of liquid water, but it would take NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to study its atmosphere and confirm its existence. Ocean. Also today is the news of the discovery by another international team of researchers, including some from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Italy, There are two planets with the same mass as Earth It orbits the star GJ 1002, a red dwarf just 16 light-years away. Both planets orbit within the system’s habitable zone. “As our instruments and technologies become sensitive enough to find and study planets farther from their stars, we may begin to find more watery worlds like Kepler-138 and ced,” Benneke concluded.

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Photo: Benoit Gougeon, University of Montreal

Alessandro Berlingeri