A team of scientists discovered that an exoplanet previously labeled as hostile and inhospitable might actually be habitable. In a new study, the scientists explained how the exoplanet's biosignatures suggest that it could be capable of supporting alien life.
The study, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, focused on an exoplanet known as K2-18B. It is regarded as a super-Earth because it's about eight times the mass of Earth.
K2-18b As In Inhospitable Neptune-Like Planet
The exoplanet was first discovered by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. It is located about 124 light-years from Earth and orbits a red dwarf star known as K2-18. Initial observations revealed that K2-18B orbits within the habitable zone of its host star, which means it could have ideal conditions to support life.
However, after conducting follow-up studies, scientists noted that K2-18B could actually be a smaller version of Neptune. Like the eighth planet from the Sun, scientists believe that K2-18B might have a deep hydrogen atmosphere and no solid surface. This means that the exoplanet could be too hostile for life to thrive in.
Analyzing K2-18B's Biosignatures
In a new study, a team of researchers learned that previous findings regarding K2-18B might be inaccurate. They noted that the exoplanet might actually be habitable. They made their discovery after creating a computer model of the exoplanet using its biosignatures, such as its mass, radius and other data related to its atmosphere, Earth Sky reported.
Through their computer model, the scientists learned that K2-18B's hydrogen atmosphere might not be too thick. Also, even though the exoplanet might not have solid surfaces, the conditions in its water layers could be similar to the oceans on Earth.
Determining The Habitability Of Exoplanets
As noted by the scientists, observing an exoplanet's proximity from its host star or determining its exterior appearance are not the only ways to study the possible habitability of an alien world. Their study proves that analyzing the biosignature of an exoplanet is a more accurate way of determining its habitability.
"We argue that planets such as K2-18b can indeed have the potential to approach habitable conditions and searches for biosignatures should not necessarily be restricted to smaller rocky planets," they stated in their study.