NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with their first knowledge of the atmospheric characteristics of K2-18 b, a sub-Neptunian exoplanet in the habitable zone. K2-18 b is located 120 light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo and is between Earth and Neptune. The nature of these “sub-Neptunes”‘ atmospheres is a topic of intense discussion among astronomers due to the paucity of comparable neighbouring planets, leaving them little understood. Water World: Methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some astronomers believe that K2-18 b could be a Hycean world, as it provides favorable conditions for looking for signs of life on other exoplanets.

Atmosphere of K2-18 b

The abundance of methane and carbon dioxide in K2-18 b, while ammonia is in short supply, points to the potential existence of a water ocean beneath a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Dimethyl sulfide (DMS), which may have been detected thanks to these first Webb observations, is the sole thing that life on Earth produces. Sea phytoplankton is primarily responsible for producing DMS and emitting the majority of it into the atmosphere. Upcoming Webb observations should confirm the presence of DMS in the atmosphere of K2-18 b in detectable amounts.

Water world: Methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While it is now established that K2-18 b is in the habitable zone and has carbon-containing compounds, this does not necessarily suggest that the planet may host life. The planet’s interior is presumably made up of a substantial mantle of high-pressure ice, similar to that of Neptune, but with a thinner atmosphere rich in hydrogen and an ocean surface. It is expected that seas of water exist on hyaline planets, but the water could be too hot for life or liquids to exist.

The acquisition of the most precise spectra of a sub-Neptune with a habitable zone to date made it possible to determine the chemicals present in its atmosphere. Astronomy is now engaged in a lot of research into the atmospheres of exoplanets like K2-18 b, namely the identification of their gases and physical characteristics.

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