Is there a potentially habitable exoplanet "only" 35 light years from us?

Is there a potentially habitable exoplanet only 35 light years from us?

New information on the L98-59 planetary system arrives: in addition to three internal rocky exoplanets, there would be a fourth (and possibly even a fifth) that could host life

(photo: Eso / M. Kornmesser) There is news on our neighbor L98-59: the planetary system just 35 light years from Earth hosts planets similar to those in our inner solar system and may even have a rocky one in the habitable belt. This was discovered by an international team of astronomers, including researchers from our Inaf, who made use of the Very Large Telescope (Vlt) of the European Southern Observatory (Eso), in Chile. The results are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics .

Like Venus, but smaller

That three planets orbited around the red dwarf star L98-59 was known from 2019, but so far we did not have much information on their mass, radius and composition . Now, thanks to the analysis by Espresso (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) mounted on Vlt, the researchers have confirmed that they are three rocky planets (such as Venus and Earth) close enough to the star not to be frozen . The first two would be dry, with perhaps some residual water in the subsoil and in the atmosphere, while the third would have a mass made up of 30% water.

L98-59b, in particular, is the innermost exoplanet and the researchers calculated through the method of the radial velocity (which is based on the oscillation of the star due to the small force of attraction exerted by the planet) that it should have only half the mass of Venus. This makes it the lightest planet ever measured with this technique. “Without the precision and stability provided by Espresso this measurement would not have been possible,” commented Maria Rosa Zapatero Osorio of the Madrid Astrobiology Center and author of the study. "This is a step forward in our ability to measure the mass of smaller planets beyond the Solar System."

A possible habitable exoplanet

The team also found a fourth hidden exoplanet, which had not been identified by previous observations, and suspects the existence of a fifth.

(Image: Eso / L. Calçada / M. Kornmesser) There would be evidence of the presence of another exoplanet. which would be in the habitable belt of the planetary system, that is, at the right distance from the star to maintain liquid water on the surface. "The planet that could be in the habitable zone" - concluded Zapatero Osorio - "could have an atmosphere to protect and sustain life".

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