Super-Earth that may host water among 15 new planets discovered

Representational image. A key outcome from the current studies was that planets orbiting red dwarfs may have remarkably similar characteristics to planets orbiting solar-type stars

Representational image. A key outcome from the current studies was that planets orbiting red dwarfs may have remarkably similar characteristics to planets orbiting solar-type stars

An artist's impression of an exoplanet system around a red dwarf star.

New research has confirmed the presence of 15 exoplanets orbiting smaller, cooler red dwarf stars.

Researchers, led by Teruyuki Hirano based their findings on data collected from Nasa's Kepler spacecraft's second mission and followed it up with ground-based observations from the Nordic Optical Telescope in Spain and the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii reports the release.

One of the brightest of the red dwarfs, called K2-155 is about 200 light years away from Earth is host to three "transiting super-Earths". These include three so-called "super-Earths", one of which is believed to have a key ingredient for life - liquid water.

"In our simulations, the atmosphere and the composition of the planet were assumed to be Earth-like, and there's no guarantee that this is the case", Hirano said. Their global climate simulations suggest it may even host liquid water.

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A more accurate estimate of the radius and temperature of star K2-155 will be needed to definitively conclude whether K2-155d is habitable or not. He added that the red dwarf systems are presently one of the main subjects of investigation and it will be an exciting prospect for future research to find more exoplanets that can sustain life. But the two new studies still yielded substantial takeaways, including the observation that planets orbiting red dwarfs might be similar to those that orbit stars with similar characteristics to the sun, though they may be smaller in number than those that orbit "solar-type stars". The planets orbiting red dwarfs are usually tidally locked to the star, meaning that only one side of the planet is lightened by the star and the other side is in darkness. (See Figure 2.) "This is a unique finding, and many theoretical astronomers are now investigating what causes this gap", says Hirano. 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.

The team is also investigating the relationship between planet radius and metallicity of the host star.

The studies were conducted as part of the KESPRINT collaboration, a group formed by the merger of KEST (Kepler Exoplanet Science Team) and ESPRINT (Equipo de Seguimiento de Planetas Rocosos Intepretando sus Transitos) in 2016. This is the first time that radius gaps have been noted in red dwarf systems. Furthermore, he speculated that photoevaporation, a phenomenon where electromagnetic radiation strips away a planet's atmosphere, might be the reason why there aren't too many large planets close to their host stars, and that the metallic content of a host star could be linked to the size of the planets that orbit it.

It's hoped that the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project that will launch next month will be able to give us a better look at some of these distant stars, especially as red dwarfs, with their limited light, can often be harder to observe than other celestial bodies.

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