Related Topics: Science & Technology, Exoplanet
- Astronomers have for the first time discovered water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet with Earth-like temperatures that could support life as we know it.
- The team used archive data from 2016 and 2017 captured by the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope and developed open-source algorithms to analyse the starlight filtered through K2-18b’s atmosphere.
- According to the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System, or ‘exoplanet’, known to have both water and temperatures that could be potentially habitable.
- The planet orbits the cool dwarf star K2-18, which is about 110 light years from Earth in the Leo constellation.
- The discovery is the first successful atmospheric detection for an exoplanet orbiting in its star’s ‘habitable zone’, at a distance where water can exist in liquid form.
- “K2-18b is not ‘Earth 2.0’ as it is significantly heavier and has a different atmospheric composition.
Importance of the Discovery
- The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet’s atmosphere.
- The astronomers believe that other molecules including nitrogen and methane may be present but, with current observations, they remain undetectable.
- Further studies will help in estimating cloud coverage and the percentage of atmospheric water present.
[Source: The Hindu, NASA]