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Are we alone in the universe ? The discovery of the Speculoos-2c super-Earth by the University of Liège could provide answers

It’s called Speculoos-2c. This exoplanet 40% larger than Earth and discovered by astrophysicists from the University of Liège also revolves around a star, but which is not as hot as the Sun. Nevertheless, its radiation could allow the presence of water and life, all of this a hundred light years from home.

Few things are currently known on this planet, but the hope is great to learn more for Laetitia Delrez, astrophysicist in charge of FNRS research at the University of Liège: “On doesn’t really have images of the planet itself. But thanks to the knowledge of its size, we have a good idea of ​​the fact that it is rocky. However, the conditions on the surface of this planet are not known.“, explains the scientist.

Speculoos-2c is nevertheless in a habitable zone, close enough to its star, for water to be on the surface: “EIt could technically have liquid water on its surface as long as it has enough atmosphere. Liquid water is an essential element for life as we know it, so it is often this criterion that we use to identify planets that we call potentially habitable. But we must now try to study its atmosphere to learn more about the conditions currently prevailing on the surface of this planet,” details Laetitia Delrez.

A collaboration with the telescope James-Webb space?

To determine if this new planet has an atmosphere, scientists from Liège could turn to the James-Webb space telescope, which was launched a few months ago by NASA. : “James-Webb has been giving us absolutely fabulous results since its launch. The idea would be to use this telescope to try to detect, firstly, the atmosphere of the planet and, secondly, to see if we can detect chemical species (such as water, methane , CO2, etc.), so-called biosignatures that could perhaps tell us the presence of life on this planet.

And to add:To study the atmosphere of an exoplanet, you really need large telescopes like the James-Webb or large telescopes like the future Extremely Large Telescope which will be installed in Chile in a few years. We are going to introduce requests for observation time on these large instruments to try to observe this planet. But we don’t have the data for this yet. On the other hand, we already have data coming to us for Trappist-1 (a dwarf planet discovered by the same team, editor’s note.). There, there is a team that is analyzing the data day by day and the first results are very promising. Now, we need to accumulate data to really consolidate these results.

Still, given the distance that separates us from Speculoos-2c, living there is impossible. Nevertheless, this discovery has a notable interest: to determine that life is not a rare phenomenon in the universe. “It is part of the big questions that humans have been asking themselves since their beginnings, to know what their place is in the universe, if life is unique or if it is a phenomenon that is frequent in our galaxy, if We are alone“, notes the astrophysicist. “With the Speculoos terrestrial telescopes, our goal is to find potentially habitable rocky planets that we can then study and try to see if we detect any interesting signs in their atmosphere that could tell us that there is life elsewhere.“.