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If you’ve had enough of life on earth and are on the lookout for refuge, look no further than 111 light years away. That’s right. Scientists at the University College London say they have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of K2-18b, an exoplanet twice the size of our own globe. Admittedly, it’s not close. It’s in the Leo constellation. Every glimmer of hope we get from K2-18b takes 111 years to get here, since a light year is the distance that light travels in a year. For perspective, moonlight takes just 1.28 seconds to reach us.

What’s exciting about K2-18b, discovered in 2015 by Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft, is the possibility that it could support life. It orbits a dim red star called M dwarf at a habitable distance and might be warm enough for its surface to have liquid water. But is that enough? Its mass is eight times that of planet earth. This suggests extreme, crushing gravity. Add intense ultra-violet radiation, and the idea of settling on K2-18b begins to sound less pleasant than sci-fi portrayals of a facsimile earth may have led you to imagine. But then again, the very thought of an optional home for us should count. That’s cause enough for cheer.

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