Water was found for the first time at the air of an exoplanet using Earth-like temperatures which may support life as we understand it, scientists demonstrated Wednesday. "While not a true Earth-analogue due to its size, this bodes well for our exploration of small planets", Josh Lothringer, who studies exoplanet atmospheres at Johns Hopkins University in the USA, said on Twitter.
A few days back, another study conducted by a team of researchers led by University of Chicago geoscientist Stephanie Olson had suggested that certain exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zone of their stars could have better conditions for life to evolve and thrive than earth.
"Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting", said Angelos Tsiaras, study author and research associate at the University College London's Centre for Space Exochemistry Data, cited by CNN.
K2-18b orbits a red dwarf star about 110 light-years - a thousand billion kilometers - at the Leo constellation of the Milky Way and is likely bombarded with more damaging radiation compared to Earth.
Thanks to the space telescope "Hubble" astronomers found that the atmosphere of the planet K2-18b may more than half consist of water vapor.
"We can't conclude that liquid water is on the surface of the exoplanet, but I think that this is very possible", stressed the co-author Giovanna Tinetti, who also conducts research at University College in London. 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.
According to one of the study's authors, Angelos Tsiaras, K2-18b can not be called "second Earth", and not just because it is bigger than our planet. The exoplanet is probably having a water-based atmosphere but the exact confirmation of helium or hydrogen is still awaited.
They hope that newer technology, such as the James Webb Space Telescope due to launch in March 2021, will be able to unlock more secrets beyond our solar system. K2-18b was discovered by NASA in 2015 and since then, scientists have been studying its peculiarities.
WION: What do we know of this exoplanet, is it gaseous in nature or does it have a surface?
They believe that other molecules including nitrogen and methane may be present but, with current observations, they remain undetectable.
"It is significantly heavier, and it has a different atmospheric composition", he said.
The British scientists used the data gathered by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Depending on what future observations yield, K2-18b could turn out to be a planet with a dense, rocky core swaddled by a thick atmosphere, like Neptune-not exactly the most life-friendly of places.