Water found on 'super-Earth' planet

World first: An artist's impression of the planet first spotted in 2015

World first: An artist's impression of the planet first spotted in 2015

There are other ingredients that are necessary too, and there are promising signs that K2-18b might harbor more than just water vapor.

More precisely, it marks the first time scientists have found water in the atmosphere around a super-Earth - as opposed to a gas giant - orbiting a star within its "habitable zone", just the right distance for liquid water to potentially exist on the surface.

However, its red dwarf star is quite active which means it could be exposing the planet to lots of radiation, which would make K2-18b a much more hostile place than Earth. The exoplanet could be a potential super-Earth (a planet with mass lesser than the masses of ten Earths), hinting at the probability of life outside the solar system.

There is at least one planet orbiting it, called K2-18b (some observations strongly indicate there may be a second planet orbiting the star as well).

NASA's Kepler space telescope first spotted K2-18b in 2015.

According to NASA, scientists used Hubble data on the exoplanet from 2016 and 2017 with open-source algorithms to study the super-Earth's atmosphere.

As Tsiaras said during a press conference, researchers consider K2-18b "the best candidate for habitability" outside our solar system.

Of the more than 4,000 exoplanets detected to date, this is the first known to combine a rocky surface and an atmosphere with water.

It's definitely the smallest and coolest planet that we've had a glimpse into the atmosphere of so far.

Space.com reported, "This team plans to expand this research even further by studying K2-18 b with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2021".

First author Dr Angelos Tsiaras said: "Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting".

However, the discovery brings astronomers closer to answering the fundamental question of how unique Earth is in the universe, the scientists said.

Scientists in the United Kingdom have made a "world first" discovery on a distant planet that hosts both water and temperatures which could support life.

Their research was published on arXiv which found compelling evidence of the existence of water vapour on the planet. And K2-18b is likely to resemble Neptune, with no obvious surface, while temperatures and pressures increase as you move toward the planet's core. The London data suggest water vapor makes up anywhere between 0.01% and 50% of the atmosphere - "quite a big range", Waldmann acknowledged.

Ingo Waldmann, who is also a coauthor of the study and a physics lecturer at UCL, believes that there will be many other super-Earth exoplanets lying in habitable zones - that may contain water - waiting to be discovered in the future.

The researchers also want to estimate cloud coverage and the amount of atmospheric water on the planet. Its radiation environment, too, maybe hostile. This planet is large and has a thick atmosphere, making it easier, but in principle planets the same size and temperature as Earth could be analyzed this way as well.

Yet Giovanna Tinetti, a colleague of Tsiaras's at University College London and a co-author of the Nature study, suggested it's still possible that there is liquid water somewhere below the atmosphere.

The next generation of space telescopes, including the European Space Agency's ARIEL mission, will be able to observe atmospheres in more detail.

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