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Business News/ Science / NASA's James Webb Telescope detects possible signs of life on distant exoplanet K2-18b
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NASA's James Webb Telescope detects possible signs of life on distant exoplanet K2-18b

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope may have found signs of life on exoplanet K2-18b through the detection of dimethyl sulphide (DMS).

NASA's James Webb Telescope detects possible signs of life on distant exoplanet K2-18bPremium
NASA's James Webb Telescope detects possible signs of life on distant exoplanet K2-18b

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope may have stumbled upon tentative evidence suggesting signs of life on a distant exoplanet, K2-18b. The telescope may have detected the presence of a molecule known as dimethyl sulphide (DMS), a substance only produced by life, reported BBC News.

However, scientists suggest that this discovery on the planet, located 120 light years away, is not yet conclusive, and more data is required to verify its existence. In addition to DMS, researchers have also identified methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the planet's atmosphere, raising the possibility of a water ocean on this distant world.

Professor Nikku Madhusudhan, who led the research at the University of Cambridge stated, “On Earth, DMS is only produced by life. The bulk of it in Earth's atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments," Nevertheless, he cautioned that the detection of DMS remains tentative, and further data, expected within a year, is essential to confirm its presence. 

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This marks the first instance of astronomers detecting the potential presence of DMS on a planet orbiting a distant star. However, the results are treated with caution due to similar claims that were made in 2020 regarding the presence of phosphine, a potential sign of life, in the clouds of Venus which were eventually refuted a year later.

Dr. Robert Massey, Deputy Director of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, expressed excitement about the results, stating, "We are slowly moving towards the point where we will be able to answer that big question as to whether we are alone in the Universe or not," reported BBC News

The James Webb Space Telescope can analyse the light passing through the distant planet's atmosphere, revealing the chemical signatures of its molecules.  

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The planet is over 1.1 million billion kilometers away, resulting in minuscule amounts of light reaching the telescope.

In addition to DMS, the spectral analysis detected significant levels of methane and carbon dioxide. These findings suggest the potential presence of a water ocean beneath a hydrogen-rich atmosphere on the planet K2-18b.

K2-18b's ability to support life hinges on factors such as temperature, carbon presence, and the potential for liquid water. Observations from the James Webb Space Telescope indicate that K2-18b satisfies these criteria. However, the possibility of DMS presence remains tantalising, as it does not guarantee the actual presence of life.

Read full report at BBC News

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Published: 13 Sep 2023, 07:17 AM IST
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