Scientists this week announced the discovery of a nearby “super-Earth” that could potentially support life, calling it a “water world.”
The team, led by the University of Montreal, used observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (), as well as ground-based telescopes, to , which is described as potentially rocky like Earth, but taller. Named TOI-1452 b, it orbits a red dwarf star about 100 light-years away from our planet, which scientists say is “fairly close.”
Scientists have long theorized about the possibility of other ocean planets, but they’ve been hard to confirm. TOI-1452 b is about 70% larger than Earth and about five times more massive, which would be consistent with a very deep ocean — but more research is needed.
NASA says the planet could also potentially be a huge rock with little or no atmosphere — or even a rocky planet with an atmosphere made up of hydrogen or helium.
A year on TOI-1452 b lasts only 11 days, but it gets a similar amount of light from its smaller, cooler star as Venus does from the sun. Despite its narrow orbit, it is in the “habitable zone,” meaning it could have coveted liquid water on its surface.
If it were confirmed that this “unique” exoplanet is a water world, its ocean would be significantly deeper than Earth’s. While our planet is 70% water, oceans account for less than 1% of the planet’s mass – while water at TOI-1452 b could make up as much as 30% of its mass according to one simulation.
“TOI-1452 b is one of the best candidates for an ocean planet we’ve found to date,” said study leader Charles Cadieux. “Its radius and mass suggest a much lower density than what you would expect from a planet essentially composed of metal and rock, such as Earth.”
If that simulation is correct, it would make the planet similar to watery moons in our solar system, likeGanymede and Callisto, which scientists believe hide deep oceans beneath their surface.
The James Webb Space Telescope is on a mission to understand the origin of our universe, but researchers say it may take some time to observe TOI-1452 b, which appears “lucky enough” in the constellation Draco, a part of the sky that Webb can see for most of the year.
“Our observations with the Webb Telescope will be essential to better understand TOI-1452 b,” said researcher René Doyon, who also works with one of the James Webb Space Telescope’s four science instruments. “As soon as we can, we’ll book time on the Webb to observe this strange and wonderful world.”