Utilizing information from the NASA/ESA Hubble House Telescope and NASA’s retired Spitzer area telescope, astronomers have found that two exoplanets across the purple dwarf star Kepler-138 — Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d — could possibly be composed largely of water.
Kepler-138 is an M-dwarf star roughly 218 light-years away within the constellation of Lyra.
Also referred to as KOI-304 or TIC 159376971, the star is about 57% the mass and 54% the radius of the Solar.
Kepler-138 is house to at the least three exoplanets: Kepler-138b, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d.
“We beforehand thought that planets that have been a bit bigger than Earth have been huge balls of steel and rock, like scaled-up variations of Earth, and that’s why we referred to as them super-Earths,” stated Université de Montréal’s Professor Björn Benneke.
“Nevertheless, we have now now proven that these two planets, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d, are fairly totally different in nature: an enormous fraction of their total quantity is probably going composed of water.”
“It’s the first time we observe planets that may be confidently recognized as water worlds, a kind of planet that was theorized by astronomers to exist for a very long time.”
With volumes greater than 3 times that of Earth and lots more and plenty twice as huge, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d have a lot decrease densities than Earth.
That is stunning as a result of a lot of the planets simply barely larger than Earth which were studied intimately thus far all gave the impression to be rocky worlds like ours.
“Think about bigger variations of Europa or Enceladus, the water-rich moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, however introduced a lot nearer to their star,” stated Université de Montréal Ph.D. scholar Caroline Piaulet.
“As an alternative of an icy floor, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d would harbor massive water-vapor envelopes.”
The astronomers warning the planets might not have oceans like these on Earth straight on the planet’s floor.
“The temperature in Kepler-138c’s and Kepler-138d’s atmospheres is probably going above the boiling level of water, and we count on a thick, dense ambiance made from steam on these planets,” Piaulet stated.
“Solely underneath that steam ambiance there may probably be liquid water at excessive strain, and even water in one other part that happens at excessive pressures, referred to as a supercritical fluid.”
The brand new observations additionally recommend the presence of a fourth planet within the Kepler-138 system.
Named Kepler-138e, the planet is small and farther from its star than the three others, taking 38 days to finish an orbit.
The alien world is within the liveable zone of its star, a temperate area the place a planet receives simply the correct amount of warmth from its cool star to be neither too sizzling nor too chilly to permit the presence of liquid water.
The character of this extra planet, nonetheless, stays an open query as a result of it doesn’t appear to transit its host star.
“As our devices and strategies develop into delicate sufficient to search out and examine planets which might be farther from their stars, we would begin discovering much more water worlds like Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d,” Professor Benneke stated.
The findings seem at this time within the journal Nature Astronomy.
Caroline Piaulet et al. Proof for the volatile-rich composition of a 1.5-Earth-radius planet. Nat Astron, revealed on-line December 15, 2022; doi: 10.1038/s41550-022-01835-4