Advertising

Scientists uncover ‘first’ water on potentially habitable super-Earth

UK News | Published:

Sophisticated tools were able to detect water vapour on K2-18b, an exoplanet located 110 light years away.

Scientists in the UK have made a “world first” discovery on a distant planet that hosts both water and temperatures which could support life.

Water vapour has been detected on a potentially habitable super-Earth known as K2-18b, located about 110 light years away.

The exoplanet was first spotted in 2015 by Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft but analysis of data has revealed new details that have not been seen on a super-Earth before.

K2-18b is classed as a super-Earth because it is bigger than our Earth – twice as big in fact, as well as eight times heavier.

K2-18b is too far away for astronomers to see, but they can look at how starlight is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere as it passes around its own sun, called K2-18.

The planet is a lot closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, meaning it only takes around 33 days to transit.

“It’s the only planet outside our solar system that we know has the correct temperature, an atmosphere and water,” said first author Dr Angelos Tsiaras.

Advertising

“Of course, K2-18b is not a second Earth, because it is a planet that is much bigger, has a different atmospheric composition. It’s orbiting a completely different star, so it doesn’t look like Earth.

“The search for habitable planets, it’s very exciting, but it’s here to always remind us that this (Earth) is our only home and it’s probably out of the question if we will be able to travel to other planets.”

Graphic shows the approximate size of super-Earth K2-18b compared to Earth and Jupiter
(PA Graphics)

It will also require many more observations to be sure that it is a habitable planet.

Advertising

Scientists, who have published their findings in the Nature Astronomy journal after more than a year of work, believe that the water content could be as low as 0.01% or as high as 50%.

“We don’t know how much water there is; however, what these models clearly say is that there is an atmosphere and that there is water there,” said co-author Dr Ingo Waldmann.

Researchers do not think K2-18b is the only super-Earth like this and expect to find others with similar characteristics among more than 4,000 exoplanets that have already been discovered.

They hope that newer technology, such as the James Webb Space Telescope due to launch in March 2021, will be able to unlock more secrets beyond our solar system.

“We are looking forward to the next generation of telescopes and go even further,” Dr Tsiaras added.

Co-author Professor Giovanna Tinetti said: “Our discovery makes K2-18b one of the most interesting targets for future study.”

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Advertising

Top Stories

Advertising

More from the Guernsey Press

UK & International News