It turns out that two previously known exoplanets, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d, are largely made of water. Scientists comment that this is the first time we’ve seen planets that can be described with a high degree of certainty as water worlds.
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A group of scientists from the University of Montreal has just presented surprising new data about the previously known planetary system Kepler-138. After analyzing data from the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes, the researchers found that planets about 1.5 times the size of Earth consist largely of water.
It has not been directly discovered yet, but its existence depends on mathematical models based on careful observations. They showed that even half the volume of these globes should be occupied by matter lighter than rock, but heavier than hydrogen or helium (of which gas giants like Jupiter are composed). The most likely solution to this equation is water.
The planets of this size studied so far turned out to be rocky, Earth-like balls.
“Previously, we thought that these planets, slightly larger than the Earth, were large balls of metal and rock – larger versions of the Earth. That is why we called them super-Earths, “- says the professor. Bjorn Beneke, author of the paper published in Nature Astronomy.
The first “water worlds”
However, we have now shown that these two planets, Kepler-138c id, are of a different nature: much of their entire volume is occupied by water. This is the first time we have seen planets that can be described with certainty as water worlds. Astronomers have theorized about Planets of this type for a long time, “- the expert emphasizes.
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The planets are about three times the size of Earth, and their mass is twice as large. The described globes are very similar to some of the solar system’s moons, with a thick layer of water surrounding a rocky core.
“Imagine a larger version of Europa or Enceladus — water-rich moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, but much closer to the star. Instead of having an icy surface, Kepler-138c id would be surrounded by a thick layer of water vapor,” says lead researcher Caroline Piaulet.
So planets may not have oceans on their surface.
“The temperature of the atmospheres of Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d probably exceeds the boiling point of water, and we expect thick, dense atmospheres of vapor on these planets. Perhaps only in such an atmosphere, under high pressure, does liquid water exist. It can even exist In another case – supercritical, ”explains Caroline Piolet.
In addition, it turns out that the two water planets are essentially twins, with approximately the same mass and size, although they were previously thought to be significantly different.
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At the same time, the researchers described the third – the closest planet to a star of this system, emphasizing that it has a mass similar to Mars and is one of the smallest known exoplanets.
Notably, another group from the University of Montreal has discovered a planet (TOI-1452 b) in another system that may also have a watery ocean. To verify this information, research with the help of the James Webb Telescope should be used.
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In addition, Beaulet and her team discovered another fourth planet in the Kepler-138 system. It is small and farther from the star than the others. However, it is located in a habitable zone where the temperature allows liquid water to exist.
However, the structure of this world remains a mystery, as it does not pass through the star’s face when viewed from Earth.
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