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Water vapor has been spotted on a “habitable zone” planet 110 light-years away

It’s the first time scientists have made this discovery for a planet whose distance from its star means it could theoretically have liquid water on its surface, reports Neel V. Patel.

The news: Astronomers found that planet K2-18b, which orbits a red dwarf star 110 light-years from Earth and was already thought to be potentially habitable, has water vapor within its atmosphere. The discovery, made using data from the Hubble telescope, was reported in a pair of papers in Nature Astronomy and uploaded to arXiv.

Differing approaches: Although they share the same general conclusions, the teams differ on how much water vapor is likely to be present. One team believes K2-18b is a sort of “super-Earth” while the other thinks it’s more like a “mini-Neptune.” Either way, their conclusions are affected by the limitations of current technology. There’s only so much software can do to model an atmosphere that far away.

Is there life there? Woah now. We'll have to wait until the launch of telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch in 2021 but has been repeatedly delayed, and the ESA’s ARIEL space telescope, set to launch in 2029, to make further observations. Read the full story here.

Posted Thursday, September 26, 2019