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13 September, 2019 05:07:19 PM

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Water found on potentially habitable planet

BBC, London
Water found on potentially habitable planet
A handout artist's impression released on Wednesday shows, sfor the first time, water has been discovered in the atmosphere of a exoplanet with Earth-like temperatures that could support life. AFP Photo

Astronomers have for the first time discovered water in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. The finding makes the world - which is called K2-18b - a plausible candidate in the search for alien life.

Within 10 years, new space telescopes might be able to determine whether K2-18b's atmosphere contains gases that could be produced by living organisms. Details were published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy. The lead scientist, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL) described the discovery as "mind blowing".

"This is the first time that we have detected water on a planet in the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is potentially compatible with the presence of life," she said.

The habitable zone is the region around a star where temperatures are sufficiently benign for water to exist in liquid form on the surface of a planet.

K2-18b is 111 light-years - about 650 million million miles - from Earth, too far to send a probe. So the only option is to wait for the next generation of space telescopes to be launched in the 2020s and to look for gasses in the

planet’s atmosphere that could only be produced by living organisms, according to UCL’s Dr Ingo Waldmann.

“This is one of the biggest questions in science and we have always wondered if we are alone in the Universe,” Dr Waldmann said. “Within the next 10 years, we will know whether there are chemicals that are due to life in those atmospheres.”

The team behind the discovery looked through the planets discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2016 and 2017. The researchers determined some of the chemicals in their atmosphere by studying the changes to the starlight as the planets orbited their suns. The light filtered through the planets’ atmospheres was subtly altered by the composition of the atmosphere.

Only K2-18b revealed the molecular signature of water, which is a vital ingredient for life on Earth. Computer modelling of the data suggested that up to 50% of its atmosphere could be water.

BK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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