(And a crown) – Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope say they have found possible signs of life coming from a huge Earth-like exoplanet, NASA confirmed in a statement.
K2-18 b is an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that is 8.6 times the mass of Earth. A new investigation by the James Webb Space Telescope has revealed the presence of “carbon-bearing molecules” including methane and carbon dioxide. These findings add to recent studies suggesting that K2-18 b could be an exoplanet, meaning it has the potential to retain a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a surface covered in water. NASA reported.
Astronomers have studied the atmosphere of planet K2-18 b for the first time in collaboration with NASA Hubble Space Telescope in 2019. The findings prompted further studies of the massive exoplanet, changing experts’ understanding of the system.
“Our findings underscore the importance of considering diverse habitable environments when searching for life elsewhere,” explained Nico Madhusudan, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper announcing the findings.
What is K2-18b?
K2-18 b is an exoplanet located 120 light-years away from us in the constellation Leo and orbiting in the habitable zone of a cooler dwarf star, K2-18.
It is classified as a “mini-Neptune” due to its size, which experts said is unlike anything in our solar system, making it difficult to understand, with an active debate about the atmosphere of these planets among astronomers.
NASA said that the abundance of methane and carbon dioxide and the lack of ammonia support the idea that there may be a water ocean hiding under the hydrogen-rich atmosphere of K2-18 b.
Observations from the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed the possible discovery of a molecule called dimethyl sulfide (DMS). On Earth, this is only produced by life. Most of the DMS in Earth’s atmosphere is emitted by phytoplankton in marine environments, according to NASA.
“These results are the result of only two observations of K2-18 b, and there are more on the way,” explained team member Savvas Constantinou from the University of Cambridge. “This means that our work here is only an early demonstration of what Webb might observe in exoplanets in the habitable zone.”
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