NASA says exoplanet K2-18 b could possibly be ocean world, or ‘Hycean’ planet

Scientists have made a brand new discovery that hints at a doable water ocean on a large planet many lights-years away from Earth, although it’s not clear if it may assist life, in accordance with NASA.

Researchers made the announcement after inspecting information from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, gazing greater than 100 light-years from Earth at an exoplanet — or a planet past our photo voltaic system — within the constellation Leo that goes by the title K2-18 b and is 8.6 instances as huge as our planet.

The astronomers, led by the College of Cambridge, discovered methane and carbon dioxide within the environment of K2-18 b, outcomes which can be “in keeping with an ocean-covered floor beneath a hydrogen-rich environment,” the college said.

“The invention gives a glimpse right into a planet in contrast to anything in our Photo voltaic System, and raises fascinating prospects about doubtlessly liveable worlds elsewhere within the Universe,” it mentioned Monday.

Webb telescope is already challenging what astronomers thought they knew

NASA said the findings — together with “the abundance of methane and carbon dioxide, and lack of ammonia” — assist the speculation that the exoplanet is likely to be coated in ocean.

The researchers mentioned additionally they detected “one other, weaker, sign” that might point out the molecule known as dimethyl sulfide, elevating the prospect of organic exercise on K2-18 b. On Earth, this molecule is just produced by life, emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments, NASA says.

However the DMS detection is but to be confirmed, and the crew will comply with up with additional observations from the Webb telescope, the U.S. house company added.

Take a cosmic tour inside the images captured by NASA’s Webb telescope

The astronomers famous that their findings didn’t essentially imply the planet may assist life: Its massive measurement means its inside may comprise a big mantle of high-pressure ice, like Neptune, however with a thinner hydrogen-rich environment and an ocean floor, they mentioned. And the ocean is likely to be too scorching to be liveable.

It’s not the primary time astronomers have seen indicators of water on different planets. Proof of water vapor has previously been found on an exoplanet roughly the dimensions of Neptune about 120 light-years away.

Nonetheless, they described the brand new revelations as a gateway to extra perception on planets past Earth.

NASA mentioned the prospect that K2-18 b could possibly be a “Hycean” exoplanet, or an ocean world, was “intriguing,” as some astronomers consider such planets are promising environments to seek for proof of life on exoplanets.

“Our findings underscore the significance of contemplating various liveable environments within the seek for life elsewhere,” mentioned astrophysicist Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the lead writer of the research.

K2-18 b, greater than twice as massive as Earth, was found in 2015 sitting in its star’s “liveable zone,” a variety that’s neither too scorching nor too chilly to host liquid water.

The primary perception into the planet’s atmospheric properties got here from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, however the expertise of its successor, the Webb telescope, together with prolonged wavelength vary and “unprecedented sensitivity,” have made the most recent detections doable, Madhusudhan mentioned.

The $10 billion Webb telescope has peered deeper into house and delivered new observations of faraway galaxies since its launch in December 2021.

“These outcomes are the product of simply two observations of K2-18 b, with many extra on the best way,” mentioned co-author and researcher Savvas Constantinou of the College of Cambridge.


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