Tuesday, 17 September, 2019

Astronomers Just Found Water On A Potentially Habitable Planet!

Scientists find WATER on a planet 110 light years from Earth Hints of rain clouds found on small alien world
Elijah Vega | 13 September, 2019, 22:38

Astronomers have made a very interesting discovery: For the first time, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that lies in the habitable zone for its star.

There are other ingredients that are necessary too, and there are promising signs that K2-18b might harbor more than just water vapor. Because the planet's atmosphere contains water vapor and it's located within the habitable zone, there may be bodies of liquid water located on the surface. If "most planets are born with a large atmosphere of hydrogen and helium that they can't get rid of, it might make it more hard for complex life to develop - we simply don't know enough at this stage", he said. Its orbital path is much tighter than the one Earth follows around our sun (out there, a year would be just 33 Earth days)-but this intimate distance means the planet is still within the red dwarf star's habitable zone, the life-friendly region where temperatures are conducive to liquid water. Called K2-18b, it was discovered in 2015 by NASA's Kepler spacecraft.

According to The Sun, researchers from University College London analysed data from the Hubble Space Telescope and found K2-18b has water vapour in its atmosphere.

"K2-18b is not "Earth 2.0" as it is significantly heavier and has a different atmospheric composition", said Tsiaras. And now, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of a potentially habitable exoplanet for the first time.

However, we can not say, with current data, exactly how likely the planet is to support life.

"Finding water on a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting", Angelos Tsiaras, study author and research associate at the centre said in a press release on Wednesday.

Two research groups announced this week that they've found water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet 110 light-years away in the constellation Leo.

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By comparison, the percentage of water vapour in Earth's atmosphere varies between 0.2 percent above the poles and up to four percent in the tropics. The team behind the find developed new algorithms that analyzed light from the host star as it filtered through the planet's atmosphere.

However, the discovery brings astronomers closer to answering the fundamental question of how unique Earth is in the universe, the scientists said.

ARIEL is expected to launch in 2028, and aims to observe 1,000 planets in detail so it could help us gain a more accurate picture of what planet K2-18b is like.

Further studies are required to estimate cloud coverage and the percentage of atmospheric water present, the researchers said. Its radiation environment, too, maybe hostile.

Understanding whether a planet could host life requires a lot more information. The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet's atmosphere.

That's largely because the researchers are taking a transmission spectrum of the planet as it passes in front of its host star - that is, they're looking at the star's light as it passes through a thin sliver of the planet's atmosphere. The James Webb Space Telescope, when it finally comes online, should be well-suited for exploring exoplanets like these.

Benneke stated that although water exists in liquid water clouds on K2-18 b, the rain falls through thick gas before it hits the surface, heating it so it becomes gas before it reaches the planet's surface.

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