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NASA Discovers Possible Signs of Life on Distant Planet K2-18b

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NASA Discovers Possible Signs of Life on Distant Planet K2-18b

NASA Discovers Potential Signs of Life on Distant Planet K2-18b

September 18, 2023 [Watch China] – In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists at NASA have found preliminary evidence suggesting the existence of life on a distant planet named K2-18b, located 100 light-years away from Earth. The remarkable finding was made using NASA’s Webb Space Telescope, which detected the presence of a molecule called dimethyl sulfide (DMS) on this faraway planet.

DMS is a molecule that is only produced by life on Earth, mainly by phytoplankton in the marine environment. Speaking to the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), Professor Nikku Madhusudhan from the University of Cambridge, who led the study, emphasized the significance of this discovery. He stated, “On Earth, DMS is produced only by life. Most of it in the Earth’s atmosphere is released by phytoplankton in the marine environment.”

This marks the first time that astronomers have detected the possible presence of DMS in a planet orbiting a distant star. In addition to DMS, NASA researchers also identified the presence of methane and carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere, indicating the potential existence of an ocean on K2-18b.

K2-18b, approximately 120 light-years away, is about nine times the size of Earth and meets all the conditions typically associated with a planet capable of supporting life. These conditions include suitable temperature, the presence of carbon, and the potential for liquid water.

While the discovery of DMS on a planet is indeed remarkable, further research is required to confirm the presence of life. Mandersultan, an expert interviewed by the BBC, emphasized the need for responsible and thorough investigation to obtain conclusive evidence.

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NASA’s Webb Space Telescope examines distant planets by analyzing the chemical signatures of molecules in their atmospheres. By splitting light into its component frequencies, researchers can deduce the composition of a planet’s atmosphere if certain parts of the spectrum are absorbed by chemicals. This method allows scientists to identify specific molecules.

The Hubble Telescope initially detected the presence of water vapor on K2-18b, which triggered the subsequent study conducted by the Webb Space Telescope.

Dr. Marcy, the deputy director of research at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, expressed excitement regarding the potential discovery. He remarked, “We are slowly moving toward being able to answer the big question of whether we are alone in the universe. I am optimistic that one day we will find signs of life… Maybe in 10 or even 50 years, we will have convincing evidence, and this is the best explanation.”

Interestingly, K2-18b stands out from other Earth-like planets, commonly referred to as rocky planets, that have been discovered orbiting distant stars. This distant planet falls under a category known as “sub-Neptunes,” which are exoplanets that differ from any known planet in our solar system. Dr. Sarkar from Cardiff University, another member of the analysis team, highlighted the lack of knowledge about these sub-Neptunes and their atmospheres.

He explained, “Although no such planets exist in our solar system, sub-Neptunes are by far the most common type of planet known in the Milky Way. We have obtained the most detailed spectrum of habitable zone sub-Neptunes to date, allowing us to calculate the molecules present in its atmosphere.”

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This remarkable finding opens up new possibilities for exploring and understanding the vast universe beyond our solar system. As scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of distant planets, the hope of finding signs of life grows stronger.

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Source: Look at China

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