Large Exoplanet May Have Right Conditions For Life

The exoplanet, K2-18b is a potentially rocky planet, much larger than our home, Earth.

Given its size - 2.6 times the radius and 8.6 times the mass of Earth - it's likely that K2-18b, which was discovered in 2015, is a smaller version of Neptune.

After analyzing the mass, radius and atmosphere of K2-18b, located 124 light-years from Earth, scientists determined the exoplanet's surface could host liquid water.

"To ascertain the prospects for habitability, you will need to get hold of a unified understanding of the inside and atmospheric circumstances on the planet - specifically, whether or not liquid water can exist beneath the ambiance".

The experts from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom worked on the mass, radius, and atmospheric information received related to the earlier known exoplanet K2-18b, which is 124 light-years away. Whether these levels can be attributed to biological processes remains to be seen.

Planets like K2-18b are known as more accessible planets for existing observation facilities. The team found a series of scenarios that could explain all the data available on the planet, including a rocky world like Earth, a mini-Neptune and a world completely covered by water.

While the hydrogen and helium atmosphere of K2-18b makes it quite different from ours, that does not mean that it can not be habitable.

They also found that levels of other chemicals such as methane and ammonia were lower than expected.

Astronomers used the present observations of the ambiance to substantiate the ambiance is hydrogen-rich with a big quantity of water vapour. It was discovered in 2017, prompting frenzied speculation about what conditions might be like there, and was the subject of even more excitement towards the end of previous year, when it was the first ever potentially habitable planet found to have water vapour in its atmosphere.

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The research team explored a wide range of models that could explain the atmospheric properties as well as the mass and radius of the planet.

If this envelope is just too thick, it will be too sizzling, and stress on the floor of the water layer beneath could be far too nice to help life.

"We considered an internal structure model that is composed of a hydrogen envelope, a water layer, and an inner core made of rock and iron, typical of planetary interiors", Madhusudhan said.

The latest research, published this week in the online journal arXiv, suggests this is not the case.

"We wanted to know the thickness of the hydrogen envelope - how deep the hydrogen goes", said astronomer Matthew Nixon of Cambridge University.

The researchers found that the maximum extent of the hydrogen envelope allowed by the data is around 6% of the planet's mass, though most of the solutions require much less.

The minimum amount of hydrogen is about one-millionth by mass - similar to the mass fraction of the Earth's atmosphere. As previously stated above that this is a planet similar to the size of Neptune which is larger than our little blue planet.

"Future observations, for example with the James Webb Space Telescope, will have the potential to refine our findings", the researchers wrote in their paper.

The much anticipated space-based observatory is being launched next year to accelerate the search for alien life.

  • Douglas Reid