Rumors of the possible discovery of life on the exoplanet K2-18b are rife in research circles. What really lies behind it?
WASHINGTON DC – There are questions as old as humanity. “Are we alone in the universe?” is one of the still unanswered questions. Science is exploring the planets and moons of our solar system, but also the exoplanets and galaxies beyond the Milky Way to find answers. Many also believe in the “James Webb” Space Telescope (JWST). The first exoplanets have already been studied very closely.
Now there is speculation in scientific circles that JWST may have discovered an exoplanet with clear signs of life. A statement In British News Magazine the observer Provides a comprehensive list of general clues to this discovery.
Is there life in the universe beyond Earth? The “James Webb” telescope may have found something
But what lies at the heart of these rumours, and how much truth is there in them? Eric Berger, a space journalist Essays on the platform Ars Technica It directly followed NASA, one of JWST's operators. Did the telescope really find evidence of life on an exoplanet? The answer is “no”—”but not hard,” reports Berger.
A NASA spokesperson's statement leaves room for interpretation: “JWST has yet to find conclusive evidence of life on an exoplanet. JWST observations are expected to lead to early identification of potential biosignatures that indicate whether a given exoplanet is more or less habitable. Future missions will be needed to definitively determine the exoplanet's habitability.” For example, biosignatures are specific molecules detected in a planet's atmosphere that can only be produced by existing life.
Exoplanet K2-18 b: Probe with JWST finds possible biosignature
At the center of the rumors is exoplanet K2-18 b, a planet eight times the size of Earth and located 120 light-years from our solar system. Scientists believe it could be a so-called Hyssian exoplanet — a planet whose surface is covered by oceans and has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The exoplanet was discovered in 2015 using the Kepler space telescope, which later detected water vapor in its atmosphere. At the time, K2-18 b was the first known exoplanet with water.
Preliminary data from the James Webb Space Telescope in 2023 show that the exoplanet's atmosphere contains methane and carbon dioxide. In a statement, NASA notes the “probable detection of a molecule called dimethyl sulfide.” This possible discovery could be the origin of rumours. Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is produced only by living organisms on Earth – especially phytoplankton. So this molecule could be a biosignature, an indication of the presence of life on exoplanet K2-18b.
Expert: The data is very uncertain – no “discovery” yet
However, as astronomer Florian Freistetter insists, the existence of TMS in exoplanets is not yet confirmed: it is not correct to speak of “proof” or “discovery”. “Normally you wouldn't pay attention to a data set like this; “What you can see is (probably) too small and too uncertain to get anything meaningful,” the scientist says. It is for this reason that researchers are very careful in their work. “The reason they're still mentioning the TMS thing is because it's probably a very exciting discovery and worth pointing out,” the researcher said.
Further JWST observations are helpful in confirming the DMS. Nikku Madhusudhan, lead author of the study referring to dimethyl sulfide, emphasized in a NASA statement when his study was published: “Upcoming web observations can indeed confirm that DMS is present in significant amounts in the atmosphere of K2-18 b. “.
“K2-18b will be the last telescope to be observed”
Astronomer Freistetter asserts: “K2-18b will not be the last to be observed with a telescope. Instead, we now have to look more closely, and the more data we have, the more we know what's going on there. If the exoplanet's atmosphere does indeed contain TMS, the study shows that “detecting such biomarkers is technically feasible,” Freistetter asserts. (tab)
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