By Sebastian Komaritsky ’25
An exoplanet is a planet that lies outside of our solar system. Many space agencies have found different exoplanets but the exoplanet K218B is different. K218B is 120 light years away from Earth and lives within the habitable zone. K218B also circles an M star which is the most common, they tend to be redder, cooler, and dimmer than the Sun. It is about 2.6 times the size of our Earth.
The chemicals that The James Webb telescope has reported show possibilities of life. Astronomers and NASA, ESA, and CSA used the James Webb telescope to record the gasses in the atmosphere, revealing Methane, Carbon Dioxide, and Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS). These chemicals are vital to life but more importantly, the only other place we have seen DMS is in our own atmosphere because our marine life produces it. This discovery means there is a possibility of life on an ocean-covered planet. “The detection of any Carbon molecule in an atmosphere is a huge advancement in the field” (Madhusudhan, 2023, CNN interview). This is a big step toward finding planets that are hospitable to human life and most likely means we are not alone in the universe.
In the future, as we discover more planets and the technology and the field of space exploration develop, we will be able to live on different planets. Exoplanets such as K218B, whose sizes vary between those of Earth and Neptune, are unlike anything in our solar system. This lack of equivalent planets nearby means that these ‘sub-Neptunes’ are poorly understood, and the nature of their atmospheres is a matter of active debate among astronomers. Although, as the field of exoplanet science grows and technology advances, we will have a better understanding of these ‘sub-Neptunes’. Characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets like K218B, meaning identifying their gasses and physical conditions, is a very active area in astronomy. However, these planets are outshone, literally, by the glare of their much larger parent stars, which makes exploring exoplanet atmospheres particularly challenging. Despite these challenges, the scientists were able to overcome them and deliver the news that there is a possibility of life out in space.
“‘Huge Deal’: Lead Scientist Explains New Exoplanet Discovery | .” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2023/09/13/exp-exoplanet-space-nasa-science-astronomy-091301aseg2-cnni-world.cnn. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
Team, Nasa Webb Telescope. Webb Discovers Methane, Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere of K2-18 b – . NASA, 11 Sept. 2023, 2`www.nasa.gov/universe/exoplanets/webb-discovers-methane-carbon-dioxide-in-atmosphere-of-k2-18-b/.