New findings by a team of European astronomers suggest that There are habitable planets, with the capacity to protect and maintain life, outside the solar system.
The discoveries correspond to a team of scientists from various European centers, who have used for their work the large VLT (Very Large Telescope) telescope that the European Southern Observatory has in the Chilean Atacama desert, and the results are published today in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Scientists from the Astrobiology Center (a joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology) and the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics have participated in the research, as well as researchers from the universities of Oporto (Portugal), Genoa ( Italia) and the Astronomical Observatory of Turin.
Their works, has reported the European Southern Observatory (ESO, in its acronym in English), shed new data on the planets around a “nearby” star (called L 98-59) and evidence that among those planets there are some similar to those in the inner solar system.
And among these findings, three stand out: a planet that would be half the mass of Venus and that it would therefore be the smallest ever measured; an ocean 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“, stated María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, astronomer at the Madrid Astrobiology Center (CAB-CSIC) and one of the main authors of the study.
The European Southern Observatory – Europe’s main intergovernmental astronomical organization – has highlighted that the results obtained now represent a very important step in the search for life on Earth-sized planets 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 lToday’s telescopes are not yet large enough to achieve the necessary resolution and get information from planets so far away.
Some of the planets these scientists have studied orbit that star (L 98-59) at a distance of “only” 35 light years; they are rocky – like the Earth or like Venus-; and they’re close enough to her to be hot.
Thanks to the VLT telescope, researchers have found that at least three of these planets can 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 can be 30 percent water, which would make it an “ocean world “.
Two 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 of this star’s system (L 98-59).
But to continue scanning space, and specifically this planetary system, astronomers are focusing on the next James Webb Space Telescope being built by NASA and the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) that the European Southern Observatory is building in Atacama ( Chile), although its observations will not begin foreseeably until 2027.
“This system heralds what is to come,” said Olivier Demangeon., 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, finally, we are getting ever closer to detecting a terrestrial planet, in the habitable zone of its star, whose atmosphere we could study,” the researcher has stated in a note issued by the ESO.