'Super-Earth' Exoplanet Could Potentially Support Life (And It Also Has a Neighbor)

University of Montreal
University of Montreal

A mysterious exoplanet that astronomers have dubbed K2-18b might be a “super-Earth” that could potentially harbor extraterrestrial life, Phys.org reports. Adding to scientists’ excitement, they’ve recently discovered that this distant body is orbited by yet another Earth-like planet, called K2-18c. The findings were recently published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics [PDF].

Discovered in 2015, K2-18b orbits a red-dwarf star named K2-18 in the constellation Leo (about 111 light years from Earth), as does its more recently located counterpart. While both planets have masses similar to Earth, K2-18c probably can’t support life—it’s too close to the star and therefore too hot. K2-18b, on the other hand, is situated in perfect range from K2-18 to have liquid surface water, which all organisms need to live. 

Astronomers discovered the exoplanets using the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The data they collected also allowed them to calculate the mass and density of K2-18b. According to preliminary findings, the exoplanet is either rocky with an Earth-like gaseous atmosphere, or watery and covered in ice. Further research with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which launches in spring 2019, will help astronomers determine K2-18b’s true nature.

In addition to revealing K2-18b’s mass, HARPS data also revealed the presence of K2-18c. Discovering an additional exoplanet was still “lucky and equally exciting," even if it probably couldn't support life, said lead author Ryan Cloutier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Scarborough's Center for Planet Science, according to a news release.

[h/t Phys.org]

LEGO Is Launching an Official International Space Station Set

LEGO
LEGO

Not everyone can live out their childhood dreams of floating around in space aboard the International Space Station, but now you can at least construct a toy version of it for your own house.

Next month, LEGO is releasing an impressive model of the International Space Station as part of its Ideas program, which produces designs that were suggested by fans. This one was submitted three years ago by Christoph Ruge.

LEGO ISS
LEGO

According to TechCrunch, the kit includes the ISS, a dockable space shuttle, two astronaut figurines, and a satellite that you can “deploy” with the robotic Canadarm2 (which is used to capture and repair satellites on the ISS). It also comes with a display stand, so you can make it the eye-catching centerpiece of your coffee table if it happens to match your living room decor.

The ISS might not look as formidable as the life-size model of astronaut Buzz Aldrin that LEGO builders created last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to construct—the 864-piece set is labeled for kids ages 16 and older.

LEGO ISS
LEGO

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that younger kids can’t help out with the assembly, or at least play with it once it’s complete. At about 7 inches high, 12 inches long, and 19 inches wide, the station could inspire the next generation of space explorers.

The $70 kit will be available on February 1 in LEGO stores or the LEGO website.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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A Snow Moon Will Light Up February Skies

makasana, iStock via Getty Images
makasana, iStock via Getty Images

February is the snowiest month of the year in many parts of the U.S., but on February 9, consider braving the weather outside to look up at the sky. That Sunday morning, the only full snow moon of the year will be visible. Here's what you need to know about the celestial event.

What is a snow moon?

If you keep track of the phases of the moon, you may already know that the full moon of each month has its own special name. Following January's wolf moon lunar eclipse is a snow moon in February. The name snow moon is said to have originated with Native American tribes, and it refers to the heavy snowfall that hits many parts of North America in February.

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, different tribes had different names for February's full moon. The Wishram people named it the shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon and the Cherokee people called it the bone moon because animal bones were sometimes their only source of nutrition in the dead of winter. Snow moon is the name that's most commonly used by almanacs today.

When to See the Snow Moon

The moon will enter its next full phase the morning of Sunday, February 9. The snow moon will be at its fullest at 2:34 a.m. EST, but if you're not willing to stay up that late, it's still worth looking up. The previous evening—Saturday, February 8—the moon will be 99 percent illuminated on the East Coast. Check your local weather forecast and find a spot with clear skies to get the best view of the wintertime spectacle.

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