James Webb spots signs of potential life and rare water ocean 120 light years away

Artist's concept render of exoplanet K2-18b (Source: NASA)
Artist’s concept render of exoplanet K2-18b (Source: NASA)

In late August, NASA discovered the 5,502th exoplanet. Yesterday, scientists unveiled the discovery of a giant exoplanet located 120 light years away. Named K2-18b, this planet is no less than nine times the size of ours and appears to possess a water ocean alongside hints of potential life.

In 1992, scientists discovered twin planets Poltergeist and Phobetor. Three decades later, the number of exoplanets confirmed reached the 5,000 milestone. Now, more than 500 additional exoplanets later already, a new sneak peak into the space by NASA’s James Webb telescope discovered that K2-18 b shows promising potential to host life. 

The recent investigation mentioned above revealed the presence of methane and carbon dioxide. The discovery of these carbon-bearing molecules comes after previous studies that suggested the potential of a surface with water oceans alongside a hydrogen-rich atomosphere. 

According to NASA, the K2-18 b planet is 8.6 times more massive and has 2.6 times the Earth’s radius. Located 120 light-years away, in the Leo constellation, it is currently orbiting the cool dwarf K2-18. Sadly, there is a lot of room for speculation for now regarding the presence of life on this planet. Such exoplanets “are unlike anything in our solar system” so astronomers are still unsude about the nature of their atmosphere.

Webb’s findings so far reveal the abundance of methane and carbon dioxide alongside a molecule known as dimethyl sulfide (DMS). While this is only produced by life on Earth (most of it by phytoplankton in marine environments), K2-18 b is quite different from our planet.

The team that conducted this investigation is planning to perform additional scans of K2-18 b to validate the previous findindgs and gain new data regarding the environment of this hycean world.

Buy Worlds Without End: Exoplanets, Habitability, and the Future of Humanity (by Chris Impey) on Amazon

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