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Water vapour is spotted on a distant rocky planet

11 Sep 2019, 17:00 UTC
Water vapour is spotted on a distant rocky planet
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Water vapour has been detected in the atmosphere of a rocky planet 110 light-years from Earth. Called K2-18b, the planet orbits within the habitable zone of a red-dwarf star, which means that the planet could harbour life. The observations were made by astronomers at University College London, who used the Hubble Space Telescope. While the evidence for water vapour is compelling, the scientists say that the next generation of telescopes will be needed to gain a better understanding of the planet’s atmosphere.

Astronomers know of thousands of extrasolar planets – planets that orbit stars other than the Sun. As observation methods improve, scientists are beginning to study the atmospheres of some of these planets. Evidence for water in the atmospheres of distant gas giants – planets that resemble Saturn or Jupiter – has already been found, but this is the first time that water has been spotted in the atmosphere of distant Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of its star. This zone is a band of orbits in which liquid water – and possibly life – could exist on a planet.
K2-18b is not, however, identical to Earth. It is a “super Earth” that is eight times the mass ...

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