Scientists for the first time have detected water in the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star, evidence that a key ingredient for life exists beyond our solar system.
(Text from Reuters)
More than 4,000 exoplanets of all types and sizes have been detected overall.
The latest discovery was reported in research by a team of scientists at University College London (UCL) published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Astronomy.
The findings were revealed from observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope, which analysed starlight filtered through K2-18b's atmosphere.
K2-18b orbits a dwarf star in the constellation Leo that lies 100 light-years from Earth.
While light from the sun takes several minutes to reach Earth, light from K2-18b's star takes a century to reach our planet, "so for us to travel it is impossible," Angelos Tsiaras, an astronomer at UCL, said.
"Given it's so far away we don't really have any other choice but stay on our own Earth, so it's important to make Earth great again rather than looking for an alternative to go to," Tsiaras said.
Aside from the tremendous distance separating Earth from K2-18b, the exoplanet is likely exposed to far more radiation than Earth, diminishing the prospects for life evolving there.
However, the discovery brings astronomers closer to answering the fundamental question of how unique Earth is in the universe, the scientists said.