Water found on potentially habitable planet for the first time

13 Septembre, 2019, 22:41 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • A handout artist's impression released by ESA  Hubble shows the K2-18b super-Earth.— AFP  VNA

Two new studies found that K2-18 b, which lies 110 light-years from Earth and orbits a red dwarf star, has water vapor and possibly even liquid water clouds, as Space.com reports. The apparent condensation and formation of clouds suggests there could be something like a water cycle happening in the atmosphere of K2-18b.

Laura Kreidberg, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that K2-18b might be better described as a "mini-Neptune" than a "super Earth". The planet closely orbits a dim red dwarf star that's about half the size of our solar system's sun. But, because the host star is much smaller and cooler than the Sun, that means K2-18b only gets slightly more light than Earth does (1441 Watts/square meter versus 1370 for Earth).

NASA's Kepler space telescope first spotted K2-18b in 2015.

Scientists have made the first successful detection of an atmosphere with water vapour around the exoplanet K2-18 b.

The other important result here is due to the fact that Neptune-like planets have turned out to be much more common than we might have expected, and we don't have a strong sense of how their composition might vary based on distance from their host stars. There have been instances of water found on gassy exoplanets, but those are not believed to be habitable by human-like life forms because they show limited capacity for carbon, nitrogen and oxygen - the building blocks for life as we know it.

However, we can not say, with current data, exactly how likely the planet is to support life.

Björn Benneke (University of Montreal) led a team in applying for time on the Hubble Space Telescope, observing the planet as it crossed the face of its star.

The groundbreaking discovery has been published today in Nature Astronomy.

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But this new discovery of atmospheric water vapor is more promising.

Angelos Tsiaras, an astronomer at UCL, said the team is focusing its attention on identifying exoplanets with conditions similar to those on Earth.

It brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: Is the Earth unique?strong>. The researchers said they clearly saw the signature for water vapor in the atmosphere when they put the data through algorithms. At such a close proximity, it might not sound like K2-18b is inside the habitable zone, but because red dwarfs emit low levels of radiation, their habitable zones are much nearer compared to systems like ours.

The finding makes the world - which is called K2-18b - a plausible candidate in the search for alien life.

There's still a chance it could be bathed in a huge ocean, though, which would be more suitable for life, Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, who was not involved in either study, told Daniel Oberhaus at WIRED. The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet's atmosphere.

"This planet is about the same temperature as Earth, but 2.7 times larger". Ultimately, though, the broader range of wavelengths and higher-resolution spectra that the James Webb Space Telescope will offer will be key to exploring this world.

Yet Giovanna Tinetti, a colleague of Tsiaras's at University College London and a co-author of the Nature study, suggested it's still possible that there is liquid water somewhere below the atmosphere.

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