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Webb Telescope showing us the air of far away worlds

Have Scientists just discovered a new world type or even a life bearing world?

By RavenSplat Fri 06 Oct, 2023 2:25 PM
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has recently been taking readings from an exoplanet named K2-18b which is 120 light years from Earth and has a mass 8.6 times that of earth. The data taken from this planet has allowed scientists to shed some light on the atmospheric conditions there.

The study by JWST was prompted due to observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope which detected a planet in the habitable zone around the dwarf star K2-18 which is a part of the Leo Constellation. K2-18b is larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune which means there is nothing in the Solar system that is similar to it. This lack of similar planets close by for study has led to not much being known about planets of this size including their atmospheric composition.

This lack of knowledge is in spite of them being one of the most common types of planets known about in the galaxy. The study of K2-18b’s atmosphere is the most detailed one of a sub-Neptune planet to date. This is due to the different wavelengths available to JWST, which senses Infrared electromagnetic waves unlike Hubble which focuses on Visible light.

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Artists rendering of Exoplanet K2-18b
What have Scientists found?
The elements of Methane and Carbon Dioxide have been confirmed in the atmosphere of K2-18b. This has provided further indicates that K2-18b may be a Hycean planet, a hot water covered world with a mainly hydrogen atmosphere. Currently no Hycean planets have been confirmed but they line up with many scientist models of planetary formations on sub-Neptune worlds, this could lead K2-18b could be the first confirmed planet of it’s kind.

Why Hycean Planets Matter?
The potential of K2-18b being a sub-Neptune Hycean planet is intriguing to many scientist but especially to those who believe Hycean worlds are a good candidate for potential non-Earth-like life. Water is considered an essential component and the atmospheric conditions of Methane, Carbon Dioxide and the lack of Ammonia indicate that the entire world may be covered with it with a sky full of hydrogen above.

Why the K2-18b data is so special?
When the results were realised some non scientist claimed that Alien life had been found, that was due to a potential detection of a compound called Dimethyl Sulphide (DMS). On Earth DMS is only produced by living organisms and is mainly produced by phytoplankton in ocean and other marine environments. The data does not support these findings as detection of DMS is extremely weak statistically and a long way from the level where scientist would start to say that life does exist on K2-18b

What's next?
The team is hoping to get time using the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) Spectrograph on JWST to validate their findings and look further into the potential DMS reading they have identified so far to further explore K2-18b.

What do you think about this discovery, could we be looking at confirmation of DMS and therefore the highest likelihood of alien life we have had so far or is it all some interference from the 120 lightyears the data has travelled?

What do you think of this amazing discovery? Let us know below!

WRITTEN BY RavenSplat
EDITED BY Solace
IMAGES SOURCED FROM - esahubble.org - James Webb Flickr Album - Space.com
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