Large exoplanet ‘could have the right conditions for life’

Artist's impression of K2-18b

Artist's impression of K2-18b

Planets like K2-18b are known as more accessible planets for existing observation facilities.

"As such, our search for life elsewhere should not necessarily be restricted to Earth-size exoplanets", Madhusudhan said. They explored a wide range of models that could explain the atmospheric properties as well as the mass and radius of the planet.

The team's findings were published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

However, just because water vapor is present in the planet's atmosphere and it lies in the habitable zone-the region around a host star where temperatures can be conducive for water to exist in liquid form-doesn't necessarily mean that it will be a hospitable place for life. This exoplanet was first spotted by NASA's Kepler space telescope in 2015 but at the time, it was hard to determine the planet's potential to host life. Even though the red dwarf star is much cooler than our sun it still emits the same heat and liquid water can be stable as well on the planet's surface. It now orbits a red dwarf star which is about 110 light-years from Earth.

A team that is led by Nikku Madhusudhan from the University of Cambridge located in the United Kingdom has again analyzed K2-18B's mass, radius, and atmospheric data and concluded that it is "potentially habitable", from the study published here at The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Back in the autumn of 2019, the same planet was a matter of media coverage but the extent of the atmosphere underneath remained unknown.

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Based on its size, the exoplanet could be a Super-Earth or a mini-Neptune because it's double the size of Earth but not as large as Neptune.

Lead author Dr Nikku Madhusudhan said water vapour has been detected in the atmosphere of a number of exoplanets studied so far.

State-of-the-art space telescopes could discover if its hydrogen-rich atmosphere contains gases from alien organisms - before the decade is out.

This is likely to cause it to have a significant hydrogen "envelope" surrounding a layer of high-pressure water - with an inner core of rock and iron.

The Cambridge team confirmed the atmosphere is hydrogen-rich with a significant amount of water vapour but levels of other chemicals such as methane and ammonia were lower than expected. They came up with numerous possibilities.

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Experts can not say for sure whether the planet has a rocky exterior and a thin atmosphere just like our beloved earth. "In the case of a water world, the model would allow for pressures and temperatures similar to Earth's oceans", the note added.

Co-author Matthew Nixon said: 'We wanted to know the thickness of the hydrogen envelope - how deep the hydrogen goes.

The researchers discovered that the utmost extent of the hydrogen envelope allowed by the information is round 6 per cent of the planet's mass, though a lot of the options require a lot much less.

It's been just revealed that there's a nearby exoplanet with rainclouds in the atmosphere that may be habitable due to the conditions that it has on its surface.

This opens the search for life up to planets significantly larger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune. But the ones dissimilar from our own may create another opportunity.

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