A new exoplanet 100 light years from Earth may be entirely covered in water

Researchers plan to use the James Webb Space Telescope for further observations.
Ayesha Gulzar
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ARTISTIC RENDITION OF THE EXOPLANET TOI-1452 B, A SMALL PLANET THAT MAY BE ENTIRELY COVERED IN A DEEP OCEAN

BENOIT GOUGEON, UNIVERSITÉ DE MONTRÉAL 

An international team of researchers led by the University of Montreal discovered an exoplanet that could be covered entirely in water. The planet TOI-1452b is about 100 light years away from Earth, located in Draco Constellation. It's larger in size and mass compared to Earth and is located in the "habitable zone," which means the temperature is just right for the liquid water to exist. The team believes that it could be an "ocean planet," a planet covered by a thick layer of water.

What's so special about this ocean planet?

This isn't the first time we've discovered an exoplanet or planets with water. Some of Jupiter and Saturn's moons are covered in thick water layers. However, the newly found planet is far wetter, even than Earth. The TOI-1452b is about 70 percent larger than Earth and roughly five times more massive. But its low density suggests that a large fraction of its mass is made up of lighter materials than those that make up the Earth's internal structure, such as water. It's thought to be composed of as much as 30 percent of water, while the Earth contains only less than 1 percent of water, making it an ideal candidate for an ocean planet.

"TOI-1452b is one of the best candidates for an ocean planet that we have found to date," said Dr. Charles Cadieux, lead author of the study, in a release. "Its radius and mass suggest a much lower density than what one would expect for a planet that is basically made up of metal and rock, like Earth."

The team first got on TOI-1452b's trail through NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a space telescope that searches the entire sky for planetary systems close to our own. Because there was a slight decrease in the brightness of an area of the sky, the researchers believed a planet larger than Earth might be found within that area. So, they began searching in-depth and discovered TOI-1452b.

We haven't found a planet that can support life like Earth… yet. But if the hypothesis is correct and there is indeed water on the TOI-1452b surface, it could be a tempting new target in the search for alien life.

The researchers noted, however, that more research is needed to confirm that TOI-1452b is an ocean planet. They say it could also be a bare-rock planet with little or no atmosphere or even a rocky planet with an atmosphere made up of hydrogen and helium.

A task for the James Webb Space Telescope

Right now, it's unclear, but researchers plan to use the James Webb Space Telescope for further observations. The planet is close enough to Earth to study its atmosphere and is located in a region of the sky that the telescope can observe year-round. Further, observation could help researchers clarify the nature and features of this fascinating planet.

"Our observations with the Webb Telescope will be essential to better understanding TOI-1452 b," said René Doyon, Director of the University of Montréal's iREx and team member. "As soon as we can, we will book time on Webb to observe this strange and wonderful world."

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