We Just Found Water on an Exoplanet that May Support Alien Life

Researchers from the University of Montreal have discovered water vapor on planet K2-18b, representing a major discovery in the search for alien life.

It’s an exoplanet like no other. Astronomers have found an alien world that’s unique and extremely important in or bet to find alien life.

In a tantalizing discovery, astronomers have announced the detection of water on a planet outside our solar system that has the right temperatures to sustain life as we know it.

Located some 111 light-years away, astronomers have revealed the detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of a Super-Earth dubbed K2-18b.

This is huge news and raises hopes of discovering more planets like it in the future. The discovery of water on K2-18b comes after scientists analyzed results from the Kepler space telescope mission which found as many as 2/3 of all known exoplanets to date. The mission also suggests that 5 to 20 % of Earth’s and Super-Earth’s orbit their star in the so-called habitable zone.

Despite this, investigating the conditions and atmospheric composition of these habitable-zone planets has been nearly impossible, until now.

A watery world

Artists illustration of a distant alien world. Image Credit: TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay
Artists illustration of a distant alien world. Image Credit: TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay

A new study by scientists from the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the Université de Montréal has made an unprecedented discovery. Professor Björn Benneke, doctoral student Caroline Piaulet and several of their associates have reported discovering water vapor and even liquid water clouds in the atmosphere of exoplanet K2-18b.

K2-18b is believed to be around eight times more massive than our planet and orbits its host star in the Goldilocks zone.

K2-18b orbits an M-type star, smaller and cooler than the sun. However, due to the close proximity of K2-18b to its host star, the alien world is believed to receive nearly the same amount of energy from its star as our planet received from the sun.

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Earth and K2-18b are similar in a number of ways, and given that similarity, researchers argue that the exoplanet may have a water cycle which allows water to condense into clouds and rain to fall.

A big step in searching for alien life

“This represents the biggest step yet taken towards our ultimate goal of finding life on other planets, of proving that we are not alone. Thanks to our observations and our climate model of this planet, we have shown that its water vapor can condense into liquid water. This is a first,” explained professor Benneke.

The discovery of water on K2-18b was possible thanks to eight transit observations taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Professor Benneke and his team are well-acquainted with the star system K2-18. In 2016, the researchers confirmed the existence of exoplanet K2-18b using data obtained from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The exoplanet’s mass and radius were determined by Université de Montréal and University of Toronto PhD student Ryan Cloutier.

Researchers have revealed that there is a real possibility–although slim–that K2-18b is actually what astronomers call a “super-habitable Earth.”

Astronomers say that although the planet is most likely a rocky world, there are also strong possibilities that K2-18b is a water world, without a solid surface.

“K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System, or ‘exoplanet’, known to have both water and temperatures that could support life,” revealed astronomers in a statement.