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[2], K2-18 is in the constellation of Leo, but outside its lion asterism. Upcoming space-based telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to study the atmospheres of planets like this, and smaller, in greater detail than ever before, and even search for biosignatures, which could be evidence for life. Image via ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser/UCL News. [17][18][19], Astronomers emphasised that the discovery of water in the atmosphere of K2-18b does not mean the planet can support life or is even habitable, as it probably lacks any solid surface or an atmosphere that can support life. Artist’s concept of K2-18b, as well as another planet in this system, K2-18c, with the parent star, a red dwarf, in the background. Bottom line: The exoplanet K2-18b does have water vapor in its atmosphere, but the planet itself is probably very un-Earth-like. It has a 33-day orbit within the star's habitable zone. While some scientists would still consider that to be a possible super-Earth… [9] The discovery of K2-18b was made in 2015, orbiting a red dwarf star (now known as K2-18) with a stellar spectral type of M2.8 about 124 light-years (38 pc) from Earth. A couple of days ago, EarthSky reported that for the first time ever, water vapor had been detected in the atmosphere of a potentially habitable super-Earth exoplanet. Image via Alex Boersma/iREx. The predicted relatively low contrast between the planet and its host star would make it easier to observe K2-18b's atmosphere in the future. The planet is more of a mini-Neptune than a super-Earth: it's got a thick hydrogen atmosphere and if you want to find the water you'd have to go ballooning. [20] K2-18b is now expected to be observed with the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2021, and the ARIEL space telescope, due to launch in 2028. [7][8][16] The UCL-led study was published on 11 September 2019 in the journal Nature Astronomy; the study led from the Université de Montréal was posted one day earlier on the preprint server arXiv.org and later published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Most scientists now consider K2-18b to be a mini-Neptune, not a super-Earth, with a deep atmosphere of hydrogen and/or helium, and possibly no solid surface at all. [13] The UCL-led analysis detected water with a statistical significance of 3.6 standard deviations, equivalent to a confidence level of 99.97%. The papers detail the finding of water vapor in the atmosphere of K2-18b, an exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star – where temperatures could allow liquid water to exist – 110 light-years from Earth. But rather than Earth’s twin, K2-18b is more like our home planet’s cousin. Many studies show that it’s extremely difficult to make a planet > than 2 Earth-radii without a large atmosphere. There may indeed be planets out there with life forms in only a gaseous atmosphere, but for Earth-kind of life at least, K2-18b would seem to be ill-suited for this. Two separate analyses by researchers at Université de Montréal and University College London (UCL) of the Hubble data were published in 2019. Paul Scott Anderson has had a passion for space exploration that began when he was a child when he watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. A habitable zone super-Earth and discovery of a second, warm super-Earth on a non-coplanar orbit", "This may be the first known exoplanet with rain and clouds of water droplets", "Hubble Traces Subtle Signals of Water on Hazy Worlds", https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=K2-18b&oldid=990544490, Short description is different from Wikidata, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, This page was last edited on 25 November 2020, at 02:42. Mass & radius (density) alone are actually not very useful here. In astronomy jargon, K2-18b is a super-Earth, putting its size between Earth’s and Neptune’s. [13] The planet's equilibrium temperature is estimated to be around 265 ± 5 K (−8 ± 5 °C; 17 ± 9 °F),[4] due to its stellar irradiance of approximately 94% of Earth's. Most scientists now agree that it is a mini-Neptune, making habitability much less likely. [4], K2-18b orbits K2-18 at about 0.1429 au (21.38 million km), which lies within the calculated habitable zone for the red dwarf, 0.12–0.25 au (18–37 million km). He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, and has also been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad. [11] A later study from 2019 classified the planet as a sub-Neptune. Image via Patterson Clark/Washington Post/Quora. [1] However, more precise data from the Gaia star mapping project has shown K2-18 to be at a distance of 124.02 ± 0.26 light-years (38.025 ± 0.079 pc). He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which was a chronicle of planetary exploration. The unconfirmed exoplanet candidate K2-18c is shown between them. Hubble has spotted water vapor & possibly clouds in its atmosphere. While interested in all aspects of space exploration, his primary passion is planetary science. This improved distance measurement helped to refine the properties of the exoplanetary system. As exoplanet scientist Erin May told me on Twitter: My PhD partially focused on the distinction between these classes of planets. [21][22], Coordinates: 11h 30m 14.518s, +07° 35′ 18.257″. Some scientists, including in the Nature Astronomy paper, have referred to the planet as a super-Earth. The planet was detected through variations in the star's light curve caused by the transit of the planet in front of the star as seen from Earth. A subset of these solutions could allow for liquid water on the surface of the planet, albeit at temperatures and pressures higher than STP. [11], Later studies on K2-18b using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) and the Calar Alto high-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Echelle Spectrographs (CARMENES) instruments also identified a likely second exoplanet, K2-18c, with an estimated mass of 5.62±0.84 M⊕ in a tighter, 9-day orbit,[4] but this additional planet has not yet been confirmed, and may instead be due to stellar activity. ", "Characterization of the K2-18 multi-planetary system with HARPS. Astronomers have identified a distant exoplanet as a "super-Earth" that has the potential to harbor alien life. In 2019, two independent research studies, combining data from the Kepler space telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope, concluded that there are significant amounts of water vapor in its atmosphere, a first for an exoplanet in the habitable zone. As might be expected, the finding received a lot of attention from media. The water vapor detection itself is confirmed, but there is a lot of debate as to just what kind of planet K2-18b actually is, and how habitable it may be (or not). The 2017 study previously linked to considered that K2-18b might be either large and rocky or covered with water and/or ice. Water vapour has been detected on a potentially habitable super-Earth in a world-first discovery. [1], In 2017, data from the Spitzer Space Telescope confirmed that K2-18b orbits in the habitable zone around K2-18 with a 33-day period, short enough to allow for observations of multiple K2-18b orbital cycles and improving the statistical significance of the signal. And the source you cite is not “outdated” – at that time we just didn’t have atmospheric constraints, only mass and radius. However, K2-18b is the smallest exoplanet so far found to have water vapor in its atmosphere, which is a good sign: it supports the contention of scientists that even smaller planets with water vapor and/or liquid water will be found, worlds that are more Earth-like in terms of both size and composition. I’d also like to point out that from mass and radius alone, this planet should have never been considered a super-Earth. I think there’s a tendency to throw this term around because it’s more “exciting”, but we as astronomers need to keep our terminology straight. While in school he was known for his passion for space exploration and astronomy. [11] K2-18b is estimated to have a radius of 2.279±0.025 R⊕ and a mass of 8.63±1.35 M⊕, based on analysis using HARPS and CARMENES instruments as well as followup observations from Spitzer. It is one of hundreds of so-called super-Earths, defined as planets with a mass between Earth and Neptune, that have already been found by the NASA spacecraft Kepler. Also: the very fact that we see a water feature *implies* a H/He dominated atmosphere. K2-18b is now the only super-Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life. They are larger than super-Earths, but still smaller than Neptune. Both will carry instruments designed to determine the composition of exoplanet atmospheres. There has been a lot of debate over whether K2-18b is a super-Earth or mini-Neptune. 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