Although volcanic activity sounds like a barrier to water and possible life, it may actually help the planet maintain some sort of atmosphere.
A team of astronomers has discovered an Earth-sized exoplanet that may be full of volcanoes. By studying data collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes, scientists have found that the surface of exoplanet LP 791-18d is likely covered in volcanoes and may experience eruptions at the same frequency as the moon of Jupiter, Io, the most geologically active object in our solar system, according to researchers.
LP 791-18d is located about 90 light-years from Earth in the constellation Crater, where it orbits a red dwarf, the most common type of star in our galaxy. Two other exoplanets have been detected in the system. LP 791-18b, which is estimated to be 20% larger than Earth, and LP 971-18c, which is about 2.5 times the size of Earth and seven times the mass of our planet. Astronomers believe that the massive planet LP 971-18c may be contributing to the possible volcanism of the newly discovered exoplanet.
During each orbit, the two exoplanets pass very close to each other. Each close pass of the larger exoplanet exerts a gravitational pull on the smaller one, making its orbit somewhat elliptical. In this elliptical orbit, LP 791-18d is slightly distorted each time it passes around the star. These interactions cause the planet’s interior to heat up, leading to volcanic activity. The same is happening in the most active volcanic body in our solar system, Io.
However, there is still no direct evidence that volcanoes exist throughout LP 971-18d. Future observations of the planet could provide more data as astronomers continue the search for potentially habitable Earth-sized planets.
“LP 791-18 d is tidally locked, meaning that the same side is always facing its star,” said study co-author Björn Benecke, professor of astronomy at the Trottier Institute for Exoplanet Research at the University of Montreal. . “The day will likely be too warm for liquid water to exist on the surface. But the amount of volcanic activity that we suspect exists around the planet could sustain some sort of atmosphere, which may allow water to condense on the night side,” he added.
Although volcanic activity sounds like a barrier to water and possible life, it may actually help the planet maintain some sort of atmosphere. Volcanoes can lead to interactions between a planet’s interior and exterior, scientists say.
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