First evidence of water found in atmosphere of planet K2-18b

An ESA  Hubble artist's impression of the K2-18b super-Earth the only super Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life

First off, K2-18 b is roughly twice the diameter of Earth, which makes it about eight times as massive.

"Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting", said lead-author Angelos Tsiaras, also from UCL. However, it brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: "Is the Earth unique?".

K2-18b is enveloped by a large atmosphere of mostly hydrogen, and new research, using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals that K2-18b's atmosphere also contains water molecules in the form of vapor and possibly clouds that contain liquid droplets of H2O.

Also on rt.com Seeing double?

Astronomers have for the first time discovered water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet with Earth-like temperatures that could support life as we know it. So, if you were standing on the surface of the planet under clear skies, you would see a red star overhead instead of our yellowish-orange sun (though, because of the high gravity and higher UV radiation on the surface of this exoplanet, it might not be possible or safe to walk around).

Most other exoplanets like this have been gas giants, such as Jupiter and Saturn, so K2-18b offers a valuable opportunity for researchers to study smaller, rocky or icy planets.

"They're the ones that could be able to find water in the atmospheres of truly Earth-sized planets", Dr Horner said.

As much as 50 percent of the atmosphere of K2-18b could be water vapour.

K2-18 b orbits its tiny red dwarf star every 33 days. Or a third option allows for a hydrogen atmosphere, a "tiny speck" of water, and high-altitude clouds or hazes that obscure the view.

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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. At the moment, one extremely important piece of information that is missing is the presence, composition and structure of their atmospheres.

"The Kepler Space Telescope first discovered K2-18 b, which is just 110 light-years away from us, in 2015". Some super-Earths have turned out to be more like sub-Neptunes, with big gaseous envelopes, but this planet's average density is similar to the density of the Moon or Mars.

In astronomy jargon, K2-18b is a super-Earth, putting its size between Earth's and Neptune's. There's still a chance it could be bathed in a huge ocean, though, which would be more suitable for life, Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, who was not involved in either study, told Daniel Oberhaus at WIRED.

Water vapour has been detected on a potentially habitable super-Earth in a world-first discovery.

NASA scientists found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five hot Jupiters. Findings are published inNature Astronomy.

Professor Giovanna Tinetti said: 'Our discovery makes K2-18b one of the most interesting targets for future study'. Over 4000 exoplanets have been detected but we don't know much about their composition and nature. Researchers think nitrogen and methane could be there as well, but those haven't yet been detected. K2-18b is different, and observations from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that it's not only at the right distance from its star, but it actually has water vapor in its 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.

"Habitability as we understand it is a very Earth-centric concept". All five planets appear to have a high-altitude haze that weakens water's signal from deeper within their atmospheres. If so, this would strengthen the case for life on K2-18b.

So instead, our best bet is to do follow-up observations with two successors to Hubble: the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch into orbit in 2021 but has been repeatedly delayed, and the European Space Agency's ARIEL space telescope, scheduled to launch in 2029.

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