Is it extraterrestrial life? Certainly scientists cannot say it – yet. But at least one international research group has now taken an important step.
Are we alone in the universe? Or not? This is a topic of scientific debate: there are supporters of both sides and there are good arguments for both theses. It is relatively undisputed that there are some necessary prerequisites for extraterrestrial life, for example the presence of water.
And exactly this test has now been achieved by an international research team. For the first time, astronomers have discovered water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet in orbit around its sun at a distance that allows the formation of liquid water – and therefore of life. In fact, on the planet K2-18b, the temperature is similar to Earth.
The exoplanet is therefore a "promising candidate" in the search for extraterrestrial life, says researcher Angelos Tsiaras. He is one of the scientists who achieved this test and has now published their results in the journal "Nature Astronomy". "Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting," continues Tsiaras.
Hubble makes it possible
The astronomical sensation was made possible by the Hubble telescope. However, the discovery does not directly suggest that there is life on the planet: "We cannot conclude that liquid water is on the surface of the exoplanet, but I think it is very possible," says scientist Giovanna Tinetti, who also belongs to the survey team.
K2-18b was discovered in 2015 by the US Space Telescope Kepler. Around the sun K2-18, a red dwarf star in the constellation of Leo. K2-18b probably consists of silicates like the Earth, Mars and Venus, as well as ice. The water has already been detected on other planets, such as Mars.