Exoplanet twice the size of Earth could be home to alien lifeforms, astronomers say


An illustration of the exoplanet K2-18b (Image: Amanda Smith)

Astronomers have discovered that an exoplanet than twice the size of Earth is potentially habitable and could support alien life.

A team from the University of Cambridge analysed the mass, radius, and atmospheric data of the exoplanet K2-18b and found that it’s possible for the planet to host liquid water.

The exoplanet is 124 light-years away, 2.6 times the width of Earth and 8.6 times the mass of our planet.

It orbits its star within the habitable zone, which means it could be at the right temperature which allows liquid water to exist.

Last year, two different teams reported the detection of water vapour in its hydrogen-rich atmosphere.

‘Water vapour has been detected in the atmospheres of a number of exoplanets but, even if the planet is in the habitable zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are habitable conditions on the surface,’ said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who led the new research.

‘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.’

K2-18b was so large that it was first suggested it would be more like a smaller version of Neptune than a larger version of Earth.

But the latest research suggests it could be an ocean world with liquid water at temperatures similar to those found in Earth’s seas.

The discovery could show that other planets with the right conditions to support life could be lurking out in the solar system.





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