Astronomers have made a groundbreaking discovery that could change the way we think about the possibility of finding habitable worlds beyond our solar system. The team led by Alejandro Suárez Mascareno of the University of La Laguna, Spain, have found two planets, GJ 1002 b and c, that are as massive as Earth and could potentially support life.
The planets lie in the “habitable zone” of their star, GJ 1002, which is the perfect distance that would allow liquid water to form on a planet’s surface if it has the right kind of atmosphere. This zone, just like the one Earth is in from the Sun, has made astronomers excited about this new discovery.
Planet b, which has a mass slightly higher than Earth’s, is the closer of the two and its year lasts only 10 days. Meanwhile, planet c is about a third more massive than Earth and takes about 20 days to orbit the star. The star GJ 1002 seems to be mature enough to have gotten over its youthful tantrums and now appears quiet. “It’s even possible that the early flaring helped build up a variety of molecules on the planets’ surfaces that could be used later, during the star’s quiet period, by any developing life forms that might be present,” said the researchers in a statement.
The team discovered the two new planets using radial velocity measurements, which involve detecting the “wobbles” of the parent star caused by gravitational tugs from orbiting planets. The team relied on spectrographs to measure variations in light and follow-up observations revealed two Earth-like planets hanging around.
The two new planets join an elite category of planets that are small worlds in the “conservative” habitable zone that are less than 1.5 times the size of Earth or less than five times as massive. However, to fully establish that they are habitable, astronomers need to find out if these planets have an atmosphere or not.
This discovery is a crucial step in the search for habitable worlds beyond our solar system and could potentially lead to the discovery of life on other planets. As Suárez Mascareno said, “The discovery of GJ 1002 b and c is a major milestone in the search for potentially habitable worlds and the understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems.”