For the first time ever, scientists have discovered an exoplanet outside the solar system that not only has the building blocks for life, but for human survival outside of Earth.
The planet, called K2-18b, is double Earth’s size and has roughly eight times its mass and gravity. It’s about 110 light years away, and most importantly, it has water and the correct temperature to support human life. Even more promising, it has an actual atmosphere.
The scientists came to this conclusion by analyzing Hubble Space Telescope results that showed the ‘molecular signature’ of water vapor on and around the planet. The analysis also revealed the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet’s atmosphere.
The researchers estimated the planet’s temperature based on the amount of starlight it received.
Don’t get your hopes up too high just yet though. The researchers admit that “K2-18b is not Earth 2.0”.
Remember that part about its gravity being eight times that of Earth’s? That might be a dealbreaker. Nonetheless, the discovery is a major scientific breakthrough. K2-18b is the only planet outside the solar system known to have life-supporting ingredients.
“This is absolutely the most promising planet for life outside Earth by some distance,” Professor Jonathan Tennyson, of University College London, said.
It’s not our only hope though. More planets are expected to be found in the future.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg and I think a lot more of the iceberg will be revealed quite rapidly,” Professor Tennyson added.
Indeed, there are already 4,000 planets outside the solar system, many of which are expected to have suitable conditions for life. Factor in the future planets that will likely be discovered by the next generation of telescopes coming out of joint projects between NASA and the European Space Agency, and the possibilities for discovering more habitable planets increase even further.
One such project, the James Webb Space Telescope, is expected to launch in March 2021.