Working with spectroscopic data captured in 2016 and 2017 by the Hubble Space Telescope, Tsiaras and his team used open-source algorithms to analyse the starlight filtered through K2-18b's atmosphere. What's significant about this is that K2-18 b is a non-gaseous "super-Earth" located within the habitable zone of its star.
"With so many new super-Earths expected to be found over the next couple of decades, it is likely that this is the first discovery of many potentially habitable planets", said Ingo Waldmann, study co-author and lecturer in extrasolar planets at the University College London's Centre for Space Exochemistry Data. "We need to know much more about the planet".
But the more important aspect of all this is that these observations show that finding water vapor in the atmospheres of temperate planets is possible. Scientists have spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down planets with traces of water in the atmosphere and have come up largely empty.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy on Wednesday.More news: Beto O’Rourke claims Trump inspired El Paso gunman
A planet's atmosphere helps determine various factors such as the presence of oceans and surface on a planet, its structure, and evolution. Through atmospheric studies, we can therefore learn about the history of the planet, investigate its habitability and, ultimately, discover signs of life.
The primary method that we use when examining exoplanets is transit spectroscopy.
The atmosphere therefore leaves a characteristic footprint in the stellar light that we try to observe. Further analysis can then help us match this footprint to known elements and molecules, such as water or methane. The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet's atmosphere. It has never before been seen in smaller planets - until now. At nearly three times Earth's diameter and between 7 and 10 times its mass, K2-18b is a super-Earth, a type of planet abundant in the galaxy, even though it's absent from the solar system. The apparent condensation and formation of clouds suggests there could be something like a water cycle happening in the atmosphere of K2-18b.
Co-author Professor Giovanna Tinetti said: "Our discovery makes K2-18b one of the most interesting targets for future study".More news: Kevin Hart Discharged From Hospital Following Car Accident
With data from the Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet within the habitable zone of its host star. For the first time, researchers have detected water vapor signatures in the atmosphere of a planet beyond our solar system that resides in the "habitable zone", the region around a star in which liquid water could potentially pool on the surface of a rocky planet.
In order for an exoplanet to be defined as habitable, there is a long list of requirements that need to be satisfied. This would generate intense pressures at the planet's surface - perhaps enough to push hydrogen into a liquid form. It is also necessary that the planet has an atmosphere to protect the planet from any harmful radiation coming from its host star. "Within the next 10 years, we will know whether there are chemicals that are due to life in those atmospheres".
However, Sara Seager, an astronomer at MIT who was not involved in either study, cautioned to Grossman that the presence of rain remains speculation until further observations are made, perhaps with the more NASA's more powerful James Webb Space Telescope. When this news broke yesterday I saw a lot (a lot) of misinformation out there, mostly just confusion or errors in understanding the science coupled with breathless headlines created to get clicks.
These missions could also make it easier to make similar detections for other rocky bodies in the habitable zones of their parent stars. So we may be well on our way to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe after all.More news: Game of Thrones Targaryen prequel nearing pilot order