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Space & Astronomy

New study offers update on possible detection of life on K2-18b

By T.K. Randall
May 6, 2024 · Comment icon 8 comments

The James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA
Has the James Webb Space Telescope found life on a distant extrasolar world or could there be an alternative explanation ?
Back in April, we reported on the potential discovery of dimethyl sulphide (a gas uniquely associated with life) in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet known as K2-18b.

Classed as a 'mini-Neptune' with a radius about 2.6 times that of the Earth, this enigmatic world is situated in its star's habitable zone, meaning that liquid water could potentially exist on its surface.

At the time, a great deal of excitement ensued and it was reported that the James Webb Space Telescope was set to conduct follow-up observations in an effort to confirm the discovery.

But how plausible is it that evidence of life has been found ?

Now according to a new study, it is possible that what Dr Nikku Madhusudhan actually found in the atmosphere of K2-18b is methane - a gas that, by contrast, is not uniquely associated with life.
The study authors argue that dimethyl sulphide typically dissipates very quickly before it can accumulate in large quantities and that the instrument used by the James Webb Space Telescope to detect it on K2-18b shouldn't really be able to differentiate it from methane gas.

"The signal strongly overlaps with methane, and we think that picking out DMS from methane is beyond this instrument's capability," said study lead author Shang-Min Tsai.

That said, the telescope is equipped with another instrument - the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) - which should be better able to tell DMS apart from methane.

This means that when it conducts follow-up observations in the near future, it should be possible to determine once and for all whether there really is dimethyl sulphide in the planet's atmosphere.

Until then, we'll just have to wait and see.

Source: Live Science | Comments (8)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Vox 22 days ago
Amazing.  People like him should be the real stars in our world.  Not the Kardashian’s and the like.
Comment icon #2 Posted by OpenMindedSceptic 22 days ago
Looks v promising. Alien life!! We normally only see it in UFO's.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Antigonos 22 days ago
Absolutely. You hit the nail right on the head.
Comment icon #4 Posted by joc 22 days ago
We have not detected life in UFOs.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Trelane 20 days ago
I'm not sure if I missed it, but what type of star does this planet orbit? Where is it it in it's life cycle? These are important questions to be asked as well regarding the possibility of life. Despite what some folks may think of my skeptical views in the UFO sub forums, I would love for there to be definitive proof of life existing there.
Comment icon #6 Posted by ChrLzs 15 days ago
Oh wait.  Surprisingly, (not), it turns out this was a very premature claim, and needs to be properly investigated.  It turns out, Madhusudhan doesn't know as much as he thinks...  From Sigh.  Surely, folks, alarm bells should have rung when you saw the video title text about being the "Most Famous Person" - to a genuine scientist, that is NOT their priority.  It seems rather odd that Professor Nikku Madhusudhan and/or his team don't know the limitations of the instruments they are reading... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by sanchez710 13 days ago
It makes total sense that in the whole universe with billions of planets in the habitable zone there must be some with some form of life. Even if it's primitive such as bacteria or amoebas.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Trelane 13 days ago
It is estimated but very far from conclusive. Also being inside a "habitable zone" is only place holder for their proximity to their parent star. They don't specify what type of stars necessarily. Those amazingly high numbers of possibility get whittled away pretty quickly once those other , and very important, factors get added to the equation.

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