Atmospheric Water Found on Super-Earth!

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It’s Not a New Earth, but The Discovery of Atmospheric Water on Another World has Huge implications

K2-18b. Ever heard of it? If not, you may want to remember the name. It’s a super-earth around 110 light-years away. K2-18b is about two times as large as Earth. Its mass, however, is around eight times that of Earth. The super-earth is also situated in its star’s “habitable zone.” Oh yeah, and one more thing. We now know that it has atmospheric water!

A Short Primer on the Argument for Extraterrestrial Life…

The question is, “Does life exist on other worlds?”

So yeah, life on other worlds almost certainly exists. That’s not proof, though. And when you’re making a claim, you must be the one to supply the evidence.

Unfortunately, it’s a question we can’t answer with direct observation. Other worlds, of course, are simply too far away. When we can’t answer a question like that with direct observation, we have to use logic. In the case of extraterrestrial life, we look at it like this:

  • We know the conditions that must be present for life (as we know it) to exist on Earth.
  • We know that one of those conditions is liquid water.
  • Therefore, if we can find other planets on which liquid water exists, the possibility of life exists.

Well, boys, girls, and everyone in between, we’ve found liquid water on another planet.

What Does All of This Mean?

The discovery of atmospheric water on K2-18b suggests quite a bit. First, it is potentially as significant as the discovery of ice water on Mars and the Moon. The presence of atmospheric water suggests, along with the gargantuan amount of gravity on a planet eight times more massive than Earth, suggest that some of that water has probably condensed into liquid and fallen to the surface of the planet.

Unfortunately, all of that gravity would make K2-18b unsuitable for human life, but that doesn’t mean other forms of life aren’t there. Think of the brave little tardigrades peacefully freezing on the moon right now, cryogenically waiting for one of us to come and re-hydrate them. Life is nothing if not persistent. Not going to quote Jurassic Park. Not going to quote Jurassic Park. Not going to quote Jurassic P… 

Oh, sorry. I’m back.

There are a lot of other good signs for life on K2-18b besides atmospheric water, too. For example, even though it orbits a Red Dwarf star, which is cooler than our own sun, scientists still believe it to have a habitable temperature of between -73 and 46 degrees Celcius. Also, there are other good life-making elements in the atmosphere, like hydrogen and helium. Nitrogen and methane could also be there, but there’s no direct evidence for that yet.

While there are many positive signs, we still can’t say for sure that life could exist there. For one thing, we have no idea how much solar radiation the planet receives, or if there are any other major roadblocks to life. I mean, for all we know, it could be a Cob Planet. So let’s not break out the bubbly just yet. Still, this is a great next step in the search for life on other worlds!

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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