NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has made another discovery, and this one could be one of the most exciting discoveries ever. While studying an exoplanet that is 8.6 times the size of Earth, Webb determined that it could be a Hysian world. This means that there is a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a single ocean covering its entire surface. Additionally, molecules that are only produced by life on Earth may be discovered. Exoplanet K2-18 b was discovered by his Kepler Space Telescope in 2015, but Webb's observations yielded entirely new information. Webb provided further evidence for the hypothesis that K2-18 b could be a Hycean world by discovering carbon-containing molecules such as methane and carbon dioxide. This is important because many astronomers believe that this type of exoplanet could be friendly to life.
Nick Madhusudan, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper announcing these results, said: ``Our results make it easier to consider the wide variety of habitable environments when searching for life elsewhere.'' "It highlights the importance of doing so." "Traditionally, the search for life on exoplanets has focused primarily on small rocky planets, but larger Hysian worlds are much better suited for atmospheric observations."
Webb also found possible traces of dimethyl sulfide (DMS). On Earth, this molecule is produced by life. Most of the DMS in Earth's atmosphere is released by phytoplankton. The presence of DMS on an exoplanet can be a good indicator that the planet is habitable, but researchers still want to be careful. The telescope will need to perform further validation to confirm whether the initial observations were accurate.
"Future Webb observations should confirm whether DMS is indeed present in large quantities in K2-18 b's atmosphere," Madhusudan explains. Although this exoplanet is in the habitable zone of Leo, there is no guarantee that it will harbour life. Even if it's a Haikai world, the ocean might be too hot or too liquid for life to thrive. It's all part of an exciting puzzle that astronomers are currently working on, and what makes Webb's observations so exciting.