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NASA discovers sign of possible life on planet 120 light years away

NASA discovers sign of possible life on planet 120 light years away

The James Webb telescope has been used to study the distant planet

NASA have announced a distant exoplanet could have a rare water ocean as well as signs that it could potentially support life.

The discovery was made using the James Webb telescope to take a look at the Leo constellation, which is a staggering 120 light years from Earth.

The exoplanet is almost nine-times the size of Earth and has been given the slight dull name K2-18 b - but don’t let that put you off because the US space agency has revealed some exciting stuff.

According to NASA , K2-18 b could be ‘a Hycean exoplanet, one which has the potential to possess a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a water ocean-covered surface’.

In a press release, NASA further explains that exoplanets such as these are ‘unlike anything in our solar system’.

“This lack of equivalent nearby planets means that these ‘sub-Neptunes’ are poorly understood, and the nature of their atmospheres is a matter of active debate among astronomers,” the release adds.

“The suggestion that the sub-Neptune K2-18 b could be a Hycean exoplanet is intriguing, as some astronomers believe that these worlds are promising environments to search for evidence for life on exoplanets.”

The exoplanet could have a rare water ocean.
NASA, CSA, ESA, J. Olmsted

Nikku Madhusudhan, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper, said: "Our findings underscore the importance of considering diverse habitable environments in the search for life elsewhere.

"Traditionally, the search for life on exoplanets has focused primarily on smaller rocky planets, but the larger Hycean worlds are significantly more conducive to atmospheric observations."

And not only that, but scientists also believe that the telescope has observed a molecule that, on Earth at least, only exists where there is life.

“These initial Webb observations also provided a possible detection of a molecule called dimethyl sulfide (DMS),” the statement continued.

“On Earth, this is only produced by life. The bulk of the DMS in Earth’s atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments.”

The exoplanet is in the Leo constellation.
NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford, Joseph Olmsted

See, I told you it was exciting.

However, before we get ahead of ourselves and start envisioning distant alien neighbours, the space agency stressed that the existence of DMS needs further investigation before it can be properly confirmed.

“Upcoming Webb observations should be able to confirm if DMS is indeed present in the atmosphere of K2-18 b at significant levels,” Madhusudhan said.

NASA also points out that, for now, there’s no way of knowing if K2-18 b can support life - because while Hycean worlds are predicted to have oceans of water, it is also possible that the ocean is too hot to be habitable or be liquid.

Featured Image Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

Topics: NASA, Space

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