Possible evidence of life discovered in exoplanet's atmosphere
By T.K. Randall
September 13, 2023 · 14 comments
An artist's impression of K2-18b. Image Credit: NASA
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has detected potential evidence of life in a planet 120 light years away.
Before the next-generation telescope launched we often remarked that it would be exciting to see what it would be able to pick up in the atmospheres of distant planets and now, with the James Webb fully operational in orbit, such a moment has finally arrived with the detection of potential evidence of life in the atmosphere of an extrasolar world situated approximately 120 light years from Earth.
This evidence comes in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and a molecule known as dimethyl sulphide (DMS) which, on our own planet, is only produced by life forms.
"On Earth, DMS is only produced by life," said the University of Cambridge's Prof Nikku Madhusudhan who headed up the research.
"The bulk of it in Earth's atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments."
The planet in question - K2-18b - is quite large at around 9 times the size of the Earth and is situated in its star's habitable zone - the region in which liquid water could potentially exist on its surface.
Despite the promising findings, however, it's important to emphasize that this detection is only tentative at the moment and further research will be needed to confirm the discovery.
"If confirmed, it would be a huge deal and I feel a responsibility to get this right if we are making such a big claim," said Madhusudhan .
Whatever the case, the find represents another step toward confirming the existence of alien life.
"We are slowly moving towards the point where we will be able to answer that big question as to whether we are alone in the universe or not," said Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
"I'm optimistic that we will one day find signs of life. Perhaps it will be this, perhaps in 10 or even 50 years we will have evidence that is so compelling that it is the best explanation."
Source: BBC News
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