A pair of Earth-sized rocky planets that are orbiting a faint red dwarf star in the habitable zone may be the second most Earth-like exoplanet ever found. 

The planets are known as LP 890-9b, previously discovered but with little information, and LP 890-9c, also known as SPECULOOS-2c. 

Beyond its size and the eight days, it needs to orbit its star, LP 890-9, also known as SPECULOOS 2, very little is known about SPECULOOS-2c. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could provide more information about whether or not the object has an atmosphere and what it contains, according to Amaury Triaud and his colleagues at the University of Birmingham in the UK, who first noticed it.

This may reveal whether or not the planet is capable of supporting life. The absence of extreme heat or cold indicates that the area is in the habitable zone orbiting a star, where liquid water may be present on the surface. 

Astronomers can watch for a star’s light diminishing as a planet passes in front of it, obstructing our view, to locate planets in distant solar systems. The planets are rather dim, making it difficult to accomplish this when the host star is as luminous as our sun, but it is simpler if the host star is cooler and dimmer, like red dwarfs.

SPECULOOS 2c orbits its star in just 8.4 days and has a radius that is 30 to 40% greater than Earth’s. It is also tidally locked, which means that on one side it is always day and on the other, it is always night. Despite these variations, the team believes it to be the second most habitable planet discovered outside of our solar system, behind TRAPPIST-1e and speculates that it still might have liquid water on its surface.

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In 2016, Triaud and his associates announced the finding of TRAPPIST-1e, one of at least three potentially hospitable planets the size of Earth that orbit a red dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. Four other TRAPPIST planets were discovered in the years that followed, and data collected indicated that at least three of them might be habitable. TRAPPIST 1e seemed to have the best chance of becoming an ocean world like Earth.

According to Beth Biller from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, the finding of these planets, particularly the inner one, and additional observations with JWST may help us grasp what makes a planet livable. However, the planet’s larger-than-Earth size and closer proximity to its host star, which would imply a higher amount of strong radiation, counts against its possible habitability, she says.

(with inputs from agencies)

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