NASA telescopes detect 2 alien worlds that are mostly made of water

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It was the 90s The era of inspiration. It was when the first Sony PlayStation arrived, when Tickle Me Elmo began to giggle across the United States, and when Google started its epic empire. But more precisely, in 1992, something quite magical happened.

Scientists found a planet Beyond our solar system For the first time, it opens up an entirely new avenue of space exploration: the hunt for alien worlds.

Since the discovery of galvanization, experts have managed to catalog thousands of items Of exoplanets that vividly remind us how gentle the eight orbs are in our cosmic corner.

These are places with Rain of precious stones, Infernal lava lakes And Weird unmelting ice rocks. There are even a handful of alternate-reality Earth bursts with the tantalizing potential to harbor extraterrestrial life.

and on Thursday at Nature Astronomy Journala crew of exoplanet hunters announced that once again, we’ve surpassed our alien world record.

Using NASA’s orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and the retired Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have identified two exoplanets that appear to be bathed in blankets of the elixir of life: water.

Sitting in a star system about It is 218 light years away from usThese azure spheres, named Kepler-138 c and Kepler-138 d, orbit a faint red dwarf star. They are about one and a half times the size of Earth and their mass is about twice as heavy as our planet. You might think they’re some kind of Earth cousins, but oddly enough, these measurements make Kepler’s two-man story a little contradictory.

“We used to think that planets slightly larger than Earth were big balls of metal and rock, like miniature versions of Earth, and that’s why we called them super-Earths,” says Bjorn Behnke, a professor at the University of Montreal. . and one of the authors of the article, said in a statement. Actually, NASA is online Catalog of exoplanets For example, it still refers to Kepler d as a “potentially rocky” world.

“But now we have shown that these two planets, Kepler-138 c and d, are completely different in nature: a large fraction of their total mass is probably made up of water,” Behnke continued.

All in all, this is the first time anyone has confidently identified exoplanets as blue worlds, which Behnke says is a type of planet that astronomers have known for a long time but has yet to prove with much certainty.

On the left is a plot of land with a fragment

A cross-section of Earth, left, with an updated version of Kepler-138 d, compared to NASA’s exoplanet catalog visualization, right. The water layers in Kepler-138 d are thought to dive to a depth of about 2,000 km. In comparison, Earth has a negligible fraction of liquid water with an average ocean depth of less than 4 km.

Benoit Gougeon, University of Montreal

Visualize a world of steam

Before we go any further, an important thing to note is that these so-called water worlds are not expected to have the oceans you might imagine.

Caroline Piaulet, team leader and Ph.D. “The temperature in the atmospheres of Kepler-138 C and Kepler-138 d is probably above the boiling point of water, and we expect a thick, dense atmosphere of vapor to develop on these planets. student at the University of Montreal said in a statement. Just below that vapor atmosphere could potentially exist high-pressure liquid water or even water in another phase that occurs at high pressures, called a supercritical fluid.

Yes, I had to erase my mental image of a large ocean blob floating in outer space, something like a scary water world. Cooper visits Interstellar It is only frightened by the high waves of the skyscraper.

Instead, the researchers suggest that the Kepler twins are more like larger versions of Europa or Enceladus, the water-rich moons currently orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, except much closer to their star.

“Instead of an icy surface, Kepler-138 c and d have large blankets of water vapor,” Piolet said.

Technically, both exoplanets studied had been found in the past by NASA’s Kepler space telescope (hence their names), but until now scientists felt they had confirmed the composition of these spheres. Although they had already confirmed Kepler-138 bAlso in the Kepler 138 red dwarf system, a terrestrial planet with a mass of 0.0066 Earth masses, they needed more observations for c and d.

Hubble and Spitzer suggested the same.

On the dark background of space, there are spheres of different sizes and colors.  Some are planets, some look like stars.

In March, NASA confirmed the existence of more than 5,000 exoplanets.

NASA/E. stencil

Despite not directly detecting water, the team was able to use NASA’s telescopes to compare the size and mass of the planets with models that suggest a significant fraction of their mass — up to half — must be made of it. Materials Lighter of stone, but heavier From hydrogen or helium which are gases.

And what sits right between the rock and the gas? Well, water

“As our instruments and techniques become sensitive enough to find and study planets further away from their stars, we may begin to find many more blue worlds like Kepler-138 c and d,” Behnke said.

Plus, an added bonus to the crew’s observations was a possible new Kepler 138 planet: Kepler-138 e.

Piolet and his team were surprised to find a fourth planet in the system that is smaller and farther from its star than the other three, according to a press release on the discovery.

But perhaps most interestingly, Kepler-138 e appears to be in the habitable zone. Time will tell what exactly that could mean for real nature.

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