A group of astronomers may have found the long-lost cousin of Earth, discovering the world's first "habitable" terrestrial planet with water in its atmosphere, according to a new study conducted with the help of Hubble telescope.
Known as K2-18b, this mysterious exoplanet is twice as big as Earth, but its atmosphere could help answer burning questions about the possibility of a life beyond our solar system. A research paper on the new discovery was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Wednesday.
"Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting," Angelos Tsiaras from University College London, lead author of the study.
This brings us closer to the answer to the fundamental question: is the Earth unique?
However, Tsiaras added that the planet should not be considered "Earth 2.0" because "It is much heavier and has a different atmospheric composition."
Discovered for the first time in 2015, K2-18b resides in the "Living area" – also known as "Goldilocks Zone" – From a remote solar system, sitting at the right distance from its red dwarf star to keep liquid water on its surface. The researchers noted that the planet's star, smaller and colder than the Earth's sun, could emit deadly radiation, making the world hostile to life as we know it.
The water vapor had previously been discovered only in the atmospheres of gaseous giants like Jupiter.
Although it is unlikely that humans will venture into the far-off world with current technologies, astronomer Jonti Horner of the University of Southern Queensland told ABC that this discovery would help researchers to understand other planets similar to the Earth.
"The fact that we can now make observations allowing us to determine what is in the atmosphere of a planet twice as large as the radius of the Earth, orbiting around. 39, a star lying a little more than a quadrillion kilometers away, is simply amazing, " Horner said.
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