Webb Space Telescope Detects Planet With Possible Life on It
Scientists have used the Webb Space Telescope to explore an exoplanet that may have life.
This is reported by Space.com.
The so-called Hycean K2-18 b planet is about twice the size of Earth and orbits a star located 120 light-years from our solar system.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has reportedly detected evidence of carbon-based molecules in the atmosphere of the suspected oceanic world.
The extrasolar planet or exoplanet, known as K2-18 b, is an attractive target for astronomers in their search for life outside the solar system. Previous studies have shown that the planet may be covered in water, an essential ingredient for life.
The new study also showed traces of carbon dioxide and methane in the exoplanet's atmosphere and the absence of ammonia, which likely indicates the presence of a water ocean in a hydrogen-rich atmosphere.
The planet is about 2.6 times as wide as the Earth, which means that its interior contains high-pressure ice, similar to Neptune, but with a thinner atmosphere and ocean surface. This means that liquid water can boil off on the planet, making its oceans too hot for life.
In addition to the detection of carbon molecules, the results of the study also showed the possible presence of something potentially more exciting in the atmosphere of K2-18 b.
The space telescope appears to have detected dimethyl sulphide (DMS), which is only produced on Earth as a by-product of life, mainly created by phytoplankton. The team is cautious about this detection, which is much less reliable than the presence of carbon molecules.
The team is cautious about this detection, which is much less reliable than the presence of carbon molecules. "Future observations by Webb will be able to confirm whether DMS is indeed present in the K2-18 b atmosphere at significant levels," says Nikku Madhusudhan, one of the study's authors and a leading scientist at the University of Cambridge.
This sense of caution should be applied to the K2-18 b findings in general when it comes to speculation about alien life. Even if a planet has a liquid water ocean and an atmosphere containing carbon molecules, it does not necessarily mean that it is habitable or that there could be living things on the exoplanet at all.
"Our ultimate goal is to detect life on a habitable exoplanet, which will change the way we understand our place in the universe," says Madhusudhan.
There are still more observations of the exoplanet to come, but the team behind these discoveries believe that what they have seen so far is already proof of JWST's power, as just one pass can yield as much data as Hubble could in eight similar transits.
The team will now continue to observe K2-18 b with JWST and its Mid-Infrared Imaging Survey Instrument (MIRI) in particular, as they seek to confirm their findings and also gather more information about the exoplanet's environmental conditions.