Scientists announced another exciting discovery yesterday (September 11, 2019) regarding potentially habitable exoplanets. For the first time, they’ve detected water vapor in the atmosphere of a distant super-Earth – called K2-18b – orbiting its star in the habitable zone.
It’s a first-ever detection of water vapor in a super-Earth’s atmosphere, orbiting in the habitable zone of its star, 110 light-years away. The discovery supports the possibility that our galaxy contains many such habitable worlds.
The word “habitable” in this context doesn’t mean humans could live there. A star’s habitable zone is the zone where liquid water might exist, and water is essential for life as we know it.
This particular exoplanet also has relatively moderate temperatures, by earthly standards. With confirmed water vapor and habitable temperatures, K2-18b has just become a very intriguing target in the search for life.
The peer-reviewed discovery was published in a paper today (September 11, 2019) in Nature Astronomy, by researchers from University College London (UCL). Another paper (draft version) was also published on ArXiv on September 10, 2019.
The new work stems from observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope. It marks the first overall successful atmospheric analysis of an exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star. Such studies have proven difficult due to the distances of these worlds and their smaller sizes as compared to gas giants like Jupiter.
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