WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Research teams from London and Canada have announced findings that water and temperatures that can support life, is found in an exoplanet in the Leo constellation.
- The Canadian team also said that findings suggest that it might be raining there.
- Despite the discovery, the London team says it isn’t a second Earth due to its different star and atmosphere.
In an exciting first, scientists have discovered water and temperatures capable of life on a planet outside our solar system.
This week, two research teams from the University College London announced that they’ve discovered water vapor in the atmosphere of an exoplanet 110 light-years away in the Leo constellation. The Super-Earth is found to be at the right distance from its star to potentially harbor life.
While it’s the only exoplanet to have so far both water and temperatures to support life, lead author Angelos Tsiaras emphasized, “This is definitely not a second Earth,” because its star and atmosphere are quite different from ours. “The only question that we’re trying to ask here, and we’re pushing forward, is the question of habitability,” pointed out Tsiaras to reporters.
Similar findings were announced on Tuesday in a paper submitted to the Astronomical Journal by a Canadian team who even suggested that it might be raining there.
“This represents the biggest step yet taken toward our ultimate goal of finding life on other planets, of proving that we are not alone,” said Bjorn Benneke, the study’s lead astronomer of the University of Montreal.
The planet known as K2-18b that was discovered in 2015 is twice the Earth’s size with eight times the mass. Though it’s believed to be rugged, no one knows for sure if water flows on its surface. Aside from its star, a red dwarf, is much smaller and cooler than our sun, its atmosphere isn’t like ours.
Regardless, Tsiaras said K2-18b could help establish if the Earth is unique.
To analyze the planet’s atmosphere, the research groups used stored data from the Hubble Space Telescope as well as other spacecraft. To ascertain whether the planet is really a true water world, further studies will be needed using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Ariel that are set to launch in the 2020s.
In the meantime, scientists say that it takes 33 days for the K2-18b to orbit its star, so one year there equals one month here, with temperatures ranging from minus-100 degrees to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 73 degrees to 47 degrees Celsius) at this distance.
The scientists also noted that while K2-18b doesn’t have a thick cloud cover since water vapor was not enveloped in the atmosphere, the surface could be wet or dry.
Water vapor ranges between 0.1% and 50% of the atmosphere, which for Ingo Waldmann of the London team, is “quite a big range.” Either way, it would still be hard to walk on the surface due to the planet’s mass.
The London study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Wednesday.