Super-Earth discovery in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star

Deepak Gupta August 6, 2022
Updated 2022/08/06 at 1:04 AM

With such a vast universe “around us”, there will possibly be a star that has in its habitable zone, where temperatures are supported by life, as we know it, that could one day welcome humans on Earth. In that sense, a Super-Earth planet has been found close to the habitable zone of a red dwarf star just 37 light-years from our own.

This is the first discovery of a new instrument in the Subaru Telescope and offers an opportunity to investigate the possibility of life on planets around nearby stars. With such a successful first result, we can expect the Subaru Telescope to discover more, potentially even better, candidates for habitable planets around red dwarfs.

Red dwarf stars in our neighborhood

Out of curiosity, the Sun is a yellow dwarf star 4.5 billion years old. roughly speaking, the sun is a type g dwarf. A type of star that is hotter and brighter than a red dwarf or M-type. Thus, red dwarfs, stars smaller than the Sun, are responsible for three quarters of the stars in our galaxythe Milky Way, and are abundant in the vicinity around the Sun.

As such, they are important targets in the search for nearby extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. But red dwarfs are cool and don't emit much visible light compared to other types of stars, making them difficult to study.

At infrared wavelengths, red dwarfs are brightest. Thus, the Astrobiology Center in Japan developed an infrared observation instrument mounted on the Subaru Telescope to look for signs of planets around red dwarf stars. The instrument is called IRD for Infrared Doppler, the observational method used in this investigation.

Illustration of detection by the technique of planetary transit

Can a Super-Earth harbor life this close?

The first fruits of this new investigation are the signs of a Super-Earth four times the mass of the Earth that surrounds the Earth. star Ross 508located 37 light-years away in serpent constellation.

This planet, Ross 508 b, has a year of just 11 Earth days, and lies on the inner edge of the habitable zone around its host star.

Interestingly, there are indications that the orbit is elliptical, which would mean that for part of the orbit the planet would be in the habitable zone, the region where conditions would be right for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. The existence of water or life are matters of further study.

Illustration of Super-Earth Ross 508 b around its star

Making the first planet discovered by this new method so tantalizingly close to the habitable zone sounds too good to be true and bodes well for future discoveries. Bun'ei Sato, Professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the principal investigator in this investigation, commented:

It has been 14 years since the beginning of the development of the IRD. We continued our development and investigation with the hope of finding a planet exactly like Ross 508 b.

With more sophisticated equipment, some planets could be discovered orbiting red stars. The planetary transit in these stars is more complicated to perceive.

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