Astronomers have made an amazing discovery in the search for other signs of life in our galaxy, finding a potentially habitable planet that contains water. This is a world-first discovery. Scientists have found water on other planets before, and they have also found planets that were in the habitable zone of a distant star, but never before have they found a habitable planet that also contained water.
The planet is called “K2-18b” and astronomers say that it could even contain alien life. The planet is massive, and is estimated to be more than double the size of the earth. Scientists do not currently have the technology to determine whether or not there are any living creatures on the planet, right now they only know that it has water. However, it is estimated that in the next ten years scientists will have telescopes powerful enough to detect gasses in the planet’s atmosphere which could give clues as to what is taking place on the surface.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.
The lead scientist, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL) said that this planet seems to be in the perfect environment to sustain life, just like earth. Tinetti says that this is the first time that researchers were able to detect water on a planet that is in a habitable zone with temperatures in the proper range.
The habitable zone, also sometimes known as “goldilocks zone,” is the space around a star where the temperature is in just the right place to sustain liquid water and possibly even life.
Unfortunately, K2-18b is extremely far away. Researchers estimate that the planet is roughly 111 light-years, or about 650 million-million miles from earth.
This is a project that the team was working on for years, sifting through information for planets discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, searching for signs of life. It is very interesting that these scientists can tell what compounds are in the atmosphere of these planets by just looking at telescope pictures. They are able to come to their conclusions by studying the changes in the starlight as the planets orbited their suns, this gives them important clues as to which chemicals are in the atmosphere because different compounds filter light in unique ways.
K2-18b was the only planet they were able to find that showed signs of liquid water. Furthermore, estimates from computer models suggest that at least half of this planet could be covered by water.
Unfortunately, as with most scientific theories and discoveries, this recent finding has some critics. There are some astronomers who don’t believe that the planet is habitable because it is too large. Some scientists theorize that planets much larger than earth are unlikely to have a rocky service, and there could also be complications with the planet’s gravity in these cases as well.
These disagreements primarily stem from the fact that this science is still technically in its infancy, and many of these astronomers can’t seem to agree on what conditions are needed to make a planet habitable.