The new findings made by a team of European astronomers suggest that there are habitable planets, with the capacity to protect and support life, outside the Solar System.
The discoveries correspond to a team of scientists from several European centers, who have used for their work the great telescope VLT (Very Large Telescope) that the European Southern Observatory has in the Chilean desert of Atacama, and the results are published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Scientists from the Center for Astrobiology participated in the investigation(a joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology) and the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, in addition to researchers from the universities of Porto (Portugal), Genoa (Italy) and the Turin Astronomical Observatory.
Their work, reported by the European Southern Observatory (ESO, in its acronym in English), provides new data on the planets around a nearby star (called L 98-59) and evidence that among these planets there are some similar to those in the inner zone of the Solar System .
And among those findings three stand out : a planet that would have half the mass of Venusand that it would therefore be the smallest that has ever been measured; an oceanic world ; and a possible planet in a habitable zone, since it is at a distance from the star in which life would be possible.
“The planet in that habitable zone may have an atmosphere that could protect and sustain life ,” said Maria Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astronomer at the Madrid Astrobiology Center (CAB-CSIC) and one of the lead authors of the study.
An important step
The European Southern Observatory – the main intergovernmental astronomical organization in Europe – has highlighted that the results obtained now represent a very important step in the search for life on planets the size of the Earth outside the Solar System.
The detection of possible signs of past or present life – what in astronomy are called biosignatures – on an exoplanet depends on the ability to study its atmosphere, but current telescopes are not yet large enough to achieve the necessary resolution and obtain information from planets so far away.
Some of the planets that these scientists have studied orbit that star (L 98-59) at a distance of only 35 light years; they are rocky -like Earth or like Venus-; and they are close enough to her to be warm.
Thanks to the VLT telescope, researchers have verified that at least three of these planets may contain water in their interiors or in their atmospheres.; that two of them – those closest to the star – are probably dry, although they could have small amounts of water, and that the mass of a third planet may be 30 percent water, which would make it an “ocean world”. “.
Two other hidden planets
The ESO team has also detected two other hidden planets that had not been seen before in that planetary system, and among them one that is at a distance from the star that would make possible the existence of liquid water on the surface .
In 2019, astronomers already detected, from a NASA satellite that tracks exoplanets, three of the planets in the system of this star (L 98-59).
But to continue scrutinizing space, and specifically this planetary system, astronomers have focused on the next James Webb Space Telescope being built by NASA and on the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) that the European Southern Observatory is building in the Atacama ( Chile), although its observations are not expected to begin until 2027.
“This system heralds what is to come,” said Olivier Demangeon, a researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences of the University of Porto (Portugal).
“We as a society have been chasing terrestrial planets since the birth of astronomy and now we are finally getting ever closer to detecting them.”a terrestrial planet, in the habitable zone of its star , whose atmosphere we could study,” said the researcher in a note released by ESO.