Astronomers have their eyes set on an exoplanet that may have the right conditions for life to flourish. The recent in-depth analyses show the planet is capable of holding liquid water at habitable conditions.
The exoplanet, K2-18b is a potentially rocky planet, much larger than our home, Earth. It was first spotted by Kepler Space Telescope in 2015, and it is just 124 light-years away. It might sound far; however, it’s basically in our backyard on the cosmic scale.
This hypothetical visualization by NASA shows K2-18b in scale to Earth.
On a journey to find out its whereabouts, astronomer Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge University and his team took a closer look at the K2-18b to establish what lies beneath its hydrogen-rich atmosphere.
Researchers used computer simulations to determine how the atmosphere and the interior of the planet looked like.
“To establish the prospects for habitability, it is important to obtain a unified understanding of the interior and atmospheric conditions on the planet – in particular, whether liquid water can exist beneath the atmosphere,” said Madhusudhan.
Different models were presented and analyzed in an effort to find out how thick the layer of the hydrogen gas could be while still being able to support life underneath.
This graphic shows the atmospheric retrieval from the transmission spectrum of K2-18b.
According to the report, odds are in our favor. The findings show that the hydrogen layer being anywhere between one-millionth of the planet's mass to the 6% would make for a habitable surface. The report states, “A number of scenarios allow for an ocean world, with liquid water below the atmosphere at pressures and temperatures similar to those found in Earth’s oceans.”
We are hunting planets today, much like our ancestors hunted for animals, and only time will show the fruits of our endeavors. In the meantime, it is for certain that K2-18b and other potential planets are too far away a dream to be considered Plan B for our tired Earth.
The results were reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.