Newly Discovered Planet May Hold Life

Life on humanity’s newest potential home among the stars would come with a few drastic differences from the Blue Planet — but it might also harbor liquid water, according to a group of scientists.

Researchers at Belgium’s University of Liège announced this week that they discovered the latest of the nearly 1,600 known “super-Earths.” One of the paper’s main co-authors said that the planet could be suitable for life.

That’s despite the fact the exoplanet orbits red dwarf star LP 890-9 at a cozy distance of six million kilometres — much closer than our 150-million-kilometre buffer.

new super-earth

The LP 890-9 system is much more compact than our Solar System. Its two planets could easily fit inside the orbit of Mercury. Image: Adeline Deward, RISE-Illustration


SPECULOOS finds a (possibly) watery world

“Although this planet orbits very close to its star, at a distance about 10 times shorter than that of Mercury around our Sun, the amount of stellar irradiation it receives is still low, and could allow the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface, provided it has a sufficient atmosphere,” said Francisco Pozuelos, a study co-author with the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia. “This is because the star LP 890-9 is about 6.5 times smaller than the Sun and has a surface temperature half that of our star.”

The research team initially found the planet by studying a different one altogether. They had been looking at planet LP 890-9b with their SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) telescopes in Chile and Spain when they spotted another world.

They named it LP 890-9c, renamed it SPECULOOS-2c, and found that it could support human life. It’s about 100 light years away from us and takes 8.5 days to orbit its star.

Though we’re not entirely sure what standing on SPECULOOS-2c’s surface would be like, the daytime sky might look quite a bit different than what we’re used to. A star that’s only 6.5 times smaller would probably still look a heck of a lot bigger from 96 percent closer up.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.