A group of scientists first detected it water vapor in the atmosphere of an exoplanet of dimensions comparable to the Earth, which makes it "the best candidate so far to be habitable", according to a study published Wednesday in the magazine "Nature astronomy".
the planet K2-18b It has a mass eight times that of the Earth and a double dimension. It was discovered in 2015 and can be both a rocky body with a vast atmosphere like a frozen planet with a high concentration of water inside.
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Until now, most of the exoplanets in which it was possible to determine the composition of their atmosphere were gas giants, due to the difficulties presented by the characterization of smaller bodies.
A team from University College London led by Angelos Tsiaras has now analyzed K2-18b through the data obtained by the Hubble space telescope in 2016 and 2017
"Finding water in a potentially habitable world … brings us closer to the answer to the fundamental question: is the Earth unique?" Tsiaras congratulated.
Scientists have used a technique known as transit spectroscopy, with which the light that filters through the atmosphere is analyzed when the planet passes in front of its star in search of traces of chemical elements.
With that system, the researchers discovered concrete proof of the presence of water vapor and also suggest that there may be a significant amount of hydrogen in the atmosphere.
"This is the only planet we know for now outside the solar system has the correct temperature to hold water, an atmosphere and in which water has been detected. This makes him the best candidate so far to be habitable, "Tsiaras said at a press conference.
"It cannot be deduced that there is liquid water on the surface of the exoplanet but I think it is very possible", Giovanna Tinetti, also from the University College of London and co-author of the study, told AFP.
Although the precise composition of the gases has not been determined for now, the models developed by the authors indicate that Up to half of its atmosphere could be water.
The exoplanet studied orbits a red dwarf star, K2-18, about 110 light years from Earth, in the constellation of Leo. It is certainly composed of silicates, such as Earth, Mars and Venus and ice.
Given the high level of activity of the star, scientists believe that the planet is exposed to more radiation than the Earth, so it can be a more hostile environment for life.
The researchers hope that the next generation of space telescopes, including James Webb, will be able to study these types of small planets in more detail.
"We look forward to the next two decades find many new super-lands, so it's likely that this is the first discovery of many other potentially habitable planets, "said Ingo Waldmann, co-author of the study.
And the adventure with K2-18b is not over yet: remains to be determined the amount of water vapor present in the atmosphere, the presence or absence of tests of organic chemistry, oxygen, ozone …
"For now, the only planet we know that houses life is Earth. But this does not mean that to be habitable, a planet must be with force exactly like this," according to Tinetti.
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