September 9, 2022
Over the past few decades, humans have discovered thousands of exoplanets, which are worlds that orbit other stars. New observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, are now working to resolve key features of these distant planets, including whether they might have the right conditions to host life.
One of the biggest open questions in this effort is whether aliens could exist on planets that orbit red dwarfs, also known as M-dwarfs, a class of very small and dim stars that are extremely common in the Milky Way.
Now, Rafael Luque, a postdoctoral scholar and astronomer at the University of Chicago, and Enric Pallé, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and the University of La Laguna, present tantalizing new evidence that these systems contain strange water-logged worlds, as well as rocky and gas-rich planets, that “could potentially be habitable if the appropriate conditions are met,” according to a study published on Thursday in Science.
The team reached this conclusion by compiling newly available mass and radius estimates of small worlds that orbit red dwarfs, in a first-of-its-kind approach. For years, scientists were able to estimate the size of these exoplanets by watching them pass in front of their stars from our perspective on Earth, but only recently has it become possible to estimate the mass of these worlds.