The planet twice the size of the Earth is covered with lakes and vast seas and may have signs of life.
Researchers discovered that large amounts of water vapor encircle the planet. That suggests that the pressure and temperature on this planet is similar to those found on Earth.
Astronomers called it K2-18b and plan to study it in detail for the next decade with the new James Webb Space Telescope, JWST or “Webb”. The JWST will be launched this decade and will provide much better resolution and sensitivity over the one that is used now, the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientist hope that the new telescope will be able to spot the gases made by alien species.
The researchers spotted lower levels of methane and ammonia which makes them suspect that it is due to biological processes and the planet may contain active life of some form. For more thorough evidence it is important to obtain an understanding of the interior and atmospheric conditions on the planet.
K2-18b is about 2.7 times the size of Earth and is also known as ‘super Earth’. The researchers hope to determine how thick is the surrounding it hydrogen layer because if “the thick gaseous envelope of K2-18b means that it is not a true Earth analogue.” Which means that in an atmosphere rich in hydrogen the temperature and pressure increase and would be far too great to support life.
David Charbonneau, a professor of astronomy at Harvard, tweeted: “The hunt for atmospheric biomarkers in exoplanets is one of the great scientific opportunities of our time. There is widespread consensus that it will take powerful new observatories. We will not build consensus by confusing the public into thinking we are already doing such work.”
The latest findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.