Astronomers have for the first-time discovered water in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star.
The finding makes the world – which is called K2-18b – a plausible candidate in the search for alien life.
The discovery published in Nature Astronomy, was described by the lead scientist, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL) as “mind blowing”.
“This is the first time that we have detected water on a planet in the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is potentially compatible with the presence of life,” she said.
Within 10 years, new space telescopes might be able to determine whether K2-18b’s atmosphere contains gases that could be produced by living organisms. K2-18b is 111 light-years from Earth, too far to send a probe. The only option is to wait for the next generation of space telescopes to be launched in the 2020s.