Astronomers discover potential ‘water world’ exoplanet near Earth

Astronomers discover potential ‘water world’ exoplanet near Earth

Scientists this week announced the discovery of a nearby “super-Earth” that could support life, calling it the “water world”.

The team, led by the University of Montreal, used observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), as well as ground-based telescopes to detect the exoplanet, which is described as potentially rocky like Earth, but larger. Called TOI-1452 b, it orbits a red dwarf star about 100 light-years away from our planet, which scientists say is “pretty close.”

Scientists have long theorized the possibility of other oceanic planets, but they have been difficult to confirm. TOI-1452 b is approximately 70% larger than Earth and about five times more massive, which would be consistent with a very deep ocean – but more research is still needed.

NASA says the planet could also be a huge rock with little or no atmosphere — or even a rocky planet with an atmosphere made up of hydrogen or helium.

Artist's rendering of exoplanet TOI-1452 b, a small planet that may be entirely covered by a deep ocean.  / Credit: Benoît Gougeon, Université de Montréal

Artist’s rendering of exoplanet TOI-1452 b, a small planet that may be entirely covered by a deep ocean. / Credit: Benoît Gougeon, Université de Montréal

A year in TOI-1452 b takes just 11 days, but it receives a similar amount of light from its smaller, cooler star that Venus receives from the sun. Despite its close orbit, it is located in the “habitable zone”, meaning it may have highly coveted liquid water on its surface.

If this “unique” exoplanet were confirmed to be a water world, its ocean would be significantly deeper than Earth’s. While our planet is 70% water, the oceans make up less than 1% of the planet’s mass — while water on TOI-1452 b can make up up to 30% of its mass, according to a simulation.

“TOI-1452 b is one of the best candidates for an oceanic planet we’ve found to date,” said study leader Charles Cadieux. “Its radius and mass suggest a much lower density than would be expected for a planet that is primarily composed of metal and rock, like Earth.”

If this simulation is accurate, it would make the planet comparable to watery moons in our solar system, such as from Jupiter Ganymede and Callisto, which scientists believe hide oceans deep beneath their surfaces.

Artist's representation of the surface of TOI-1452 b, which could be a

Artist’s representation of the surface of TOI-1452 b, which could be a

The James Webb Space Telescope is on a mission to understand the origins of our universe, but researchers say it may take some time to observe TOI-1452 b, which, “in a stroke of luck”, appears in the constellation Draco, a part of the sky that Webb can see for most of the year.

“Our observations with the Webb Telescope will be essential to better understand TOI-1452 b,” said researcher René Doyon, who also works with one of the four science instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope. “As soon as we can, we’ll make time at Webb to observe this strange and wonderful world.”

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