ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

Scientists Say They've Discovered Water On A 'Potentially Habitable' Planet

Dan 13 Sep 2019

When it comes to understanding everything the universe has to offer, we've barely scratched the surface. In recent years, astronomers have identified more and more Earth-like worlds in the the universe — and their most recent discovery is pretty exciting.

Our understanding of space has come a long way.

Unsplash | David Menidrey

Just a couple of decades ago, it was believed that most stars don't have planetary systems. But more recently, astronomers have come to understand that most stars have planets orbiting them. What's more, most stars are believed to have planets in habitable zones.

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There's a lot of potential for life out there.

Unsplash | Denis Degioanni

We may not have found extraterrestrial life just yet, but we're well on our way. If most stars have planets in their habitable zone, and there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that's a billion trillion) stars in the universe, you have to think the odds are in favor of life being out there.

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What's a habitable zone?

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It's what we live in! In short, it's kind of a Goldilocks zone around a star: not so cold that it'll discourage life, but not so hot that it scorches everything in its path.

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Water is crucial.

Unsplash | Jong Marshes

We've detected plenty of water ice in our own solar system. Detecting it on more distant worlds is more tricky, as we don't have probes orbiting them and have to deduce water's presence through a telescope.

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The latest discovery is huge.

ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

A planet known as Exoplanet K2-18b is located in the habitable zone of a distant star. Most importantly, scientists have detected water in its atmosphere. This is big news because, to date, the only other known planet to share these characteristics is...well, Earth.

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It's a big world.

Giphy | NASA

Classified as a "super Earth" for its Earth-like conditions and massive size, K2-18b is about twice the size of Earth. It's located 111 light years, or about 650 million million miles away.

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They deduced it through a telescope.

ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

It'll likely be a long time before we're able to send probes that far, so astronomers detected water in the planet's atmosphere by looking at the light from its nearby star. As the light shines through the atmosphere, certain conditions become apparent.

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Could it support life?

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It's way too early to say for sure, and there are potential obstacles in the way of life developing there — notably that the planet's sheer mass makes it unlikely that it'll have an Earth-like rocky surface.

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We could know more soon.

Wikipedia / NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope is responsible for this, as well as hundreds of other, discoveries in its nearly three decades in orbit. But its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be considerably more advanced.

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Do you think there's life out there?

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It's one of our oldest and most profound questions. Let us know what you think of this astronomical discovery, as well as your thoughts on life in the universe, in the comments section!

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