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“A promising step”: Thanks to the James Webb Telescope, researchers discover a “super-Earth” with conditions suitable for life

“A promising step”: Thanks to the James Webb Telescope, researchers discover a “super-Earth” with conditions suitable for life

Thanks to the James Webb Telescope, scientists recently discovered a “super-Earth,” a planet roughly twice the size of our Earth that could also support life. This would be 124 light-years away from us.

James Webb never ceases to surprise us. The nearly $10 billion space telescope has allowed researchers to discover a new exoplanet, a “super-Earth” larger than our beloved blue planet. It was called “K2-18b”. It is located approximately 124 light-years from our planet, in the constellation Leo, around a so-called “red dwarf,” a star roughly half the size of our sun.

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According to scientists, “K2-18b” will be a “super-Earth”, that is, a planet that is not only located in the “habitable zone” of its system, but is also larger than our Earth, by about 2 and 2 meters. Half times. a The study is based on data collected by NASA The European Space Agency (ESA) – published on Monday, September 11 – announces that researchers were able to detect methane and carbon dioxide molecules on its surface. The presence of these two gases therefore suggests that K2-18b could have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and surface oceans: in short, the essential ingredients for life.

Ocean on its surface?

This type of exoplanet is called a “Hessian planet” or “Hessian planet.” The term comes from the English word “hycean”, which is an abbreviation between hydrogen and ocean. This is a very new term and a very recent research topic for researchers. These years, Nikku Madhusudhan and other equipment from the University of Cambridge on 11 exoplanets such as “hycéennes”, and other mots, “K2-18b” are similar to the cell that aurait the most suitable atmosphere for the application. life.

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“The abundance of methane and carbon dioxide, as well as the scarcity of ammonia, supports the hypothesis that there could be an ocean beneath the hydrogen-rich atmosphere of K2-18b,” the researchers explained in their study. The analysis does not stop there! Dimethyl sulfide molecules were reportedly detected on the surface of K2-18b. The researchers say this discovery still needs to be “confirmed”, but this type of molecule is a light sulfur compound generally found in a wide range of food products: it is generally produced by phytoplankton in marine environments.

“Understanding our place”

What makes these discoveries even more amazing is that searching for and studying exoplanets is a very precise matter. Particularly powerful tools are needed for this. There are several ways: one is to analyze the variation in a star’s brightness to understand the celestial bodies in its orbit. For his part, James Webb facilitated these maneuvers: “Observing the transit with Webb provided accuracy comparable to eight observations” with the old Hubble Telescope, the scientists explain.

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“Our ultimate goal is to identify life on a habitable exoplanet, which would change our understanding of our place in the universe,” concludes Madhusudan. “Our findings represent a promising step toward a deeper understanding of the Hessian worlds in this endeavour.”