Telescope Finds Potential Signs of Life on Exoplanet K2-18 b, Just 111 Light-Years Away
NASA’s “James Webb” Space Telescope has provided new data about the planet K2-18 b, an exoplanet-ocean (gikian) orbiting the red dwarf star K2-18, located 111 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Leo. The latest data suggests that the planet’s atmosphere contains hydrogen, which, combined with other signs, could indicate the presence of living organisms.
In a new study, scientists from the University of Cambridge analyzed the data obtained from “James Webb” to learn more about K2-18 b. This exoplanet, which is 8.6 times larger than Earth, orbits its star in just 33 days. The data was collected using the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) and the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), instruments designed for imaging in the near-infrared range, which helped researchers understand more about the chemical composition of K2-18 b’s atmosphere.
The study revealed that K2-18 b’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly high amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and dimethyl sulfide—carbon-containing molecules whose sources on Earth are living organisms. Additionally, there is a lack of ammonia, which could be a sign of the planet having a liquid ocean where ammonia from the atmosphere dissolves in the water.
“Our study’s results highlight the importance of exploring diverse environments in the search for life elsewhere. Traditionally, the search for life on exoplanets has focused on small rocky planets, but larger worlds like gikians are much more convenient for observing atmospheres,” said one of the study’s authors, Nikku Madhusudhan.
Signs that K2-18 b could potentially support life were first observed in 2019 when researchers processed data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The presence of water vapor in the atmosphere suggests the planet may have liquid water on its surface—the primary element needed for life as we know it. However, it is believed that K2-18 b is subjected to much harsher radiation from its star, making it less conducive to life. Researchers will continue to observe K2-18 b using the tools available on the “James Webb” Telescope to gather more information.
- I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.
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