The study also found that there are two other planets in the star system, called LP 791-18 b and c.
The researchers suggest that the world’s elliptical orbit causes it to warp slightly each time it passes close to the dwarf star, creating friction within the planet that could cause such volcanic activity across its surface.
Under the name of LP 791-18 d, astronomers have found an exoplanet completely different from what has been seen so far. 90 light-years from Earth, where it orbits a small red dwarf, and about the same size as our planet, it is thought to be probably covered in active volcanoes. Yes, its entire surface would be practically lava.
If so, they explain, it could experience eruptions with the same frequency as Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanically active place in our solar system. A finding made possible through data from NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, the retired Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based telescopes.
Among the reasons for this “volcanic” space, the researchers suggest that the world’s elliptical orbit causes it to warp slightly each time it passes close to the dwarf star, creating friction within the planet that could cause such volcanic activity across its surface. As co-author Björn Benneke, a professor of astronomy at the University of Montreal, explained in a NASA press release:
LP 791-18 d is tidally locked, which means that the same side constantly faces its star. The dayside would probably be too hot for liquid water to exist on the surface. But the amount of volcanic activity that we suspect occurs across the planet could sustain an atmosphere, which could allow water to condense on the night side.
The study also found that there are two other planets in the star system, called LP 791-18 b and c. LP 791-18 b is about 20% larger than Earth, while c is 2.5 times as wide as Earth and seven times as massive.
That said, counterintuitively enough, astronomers themselves have indicated that despite the hard surface of LP 791-18 d, they believe that this geological activity and potential atmosphere could foster a habitable environment. According to co-author Jessie Christiansen, a researcher at NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute:
A big question in astrobiology, the field that broadly studies the origins of life on Earth and beyond, is whether tectonic or volcanic activity is necessary for life. In addition to potentially providing an atmosphere, these processes could stir up materials that would otherwise sink and become trapped in the crust, including those we think are important to life, such as carbon.