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A planet, K2-3d which is 150 light-years way from Earth is back in the news when astronomers from Japan conducted the first ground-based transit observation of the so called super-Earth, which may shed light on the existence of alien life.
K2-3D is a planet outside our Solar System. It is 1.5 times the mass of Earth. Nasa’s Kepler space telescope discovered the planet, K203d in 2015. The planet orbits around a cool, red M-dwarf star named K2-3 which is about half the size and mass of our Sun.
M-dwarf stars are the smallest stars with a mass of between 7.5 to 50 percent of the Sun. They emit low light and have relatively cool surface temperature causing it to appear red-orange in color. The stars are classified according to their spectra and their temperature, with classes such as O, B, A, F, G, K, and M in order of decreasing temperature and brightness
Because of its low luminosity, the K2-3 star is not visible with the naked eye.
The planet K2-3d takes 44.6 days to rotate around the star, K2-3. It has an Earth Similarity Index of 0.80. This index is a measure from a scale from 0 to 1.0, compared to Earth. In comparison, another planet, Kepler-438b which is 470 light years from Earth (very very much further away), has an index of 0.88.
K2-3d seems to have the right environment of a warm climate and the right conditions for liquid water to exist on the surface. In an upcoming eclipse to take place next year, K2-3D will pass in-front of its own star and blocking a small portion of the starlight. This phenomena is called a transit and it present an opportunity for scientists to examine the planet, K2-3d in more detail to confirm whether alien life exist.
The Japanese astronomy team lead by Akihiko Fukui, using the multi-band imager MuSCAT on the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory 1.88-m telescope (shown below), conducted the first ground-based transit observation of the super-Earth, K2-3d.
Their novel technique has made it possible to study in detail the habitable zone of K2-3d during transit – when the planet K2-3d moves in-front of its star.
The result on whether there is any signs of alien life will only be known in 2017, when the eclipse occur.