First Ever Find of Water on ‘Potentially Habitable’ Planet Gives Hope for Finding Alien Life
For the first time ever, astronomers have identified water trapped in the atmosphere of a remote planet orbiting a distant star.
When Gillian Anderson played Dana Scully she famously said, “The truth is out there” and who would have believed that astronomers around the world are now opening new folders on their desk tops rightfully titled - X-Files.
Just over twice the size of our planet and located an unimaginable 111 light years (650 million miles) from Earth, exoplanet “K2-18b” is the best chance we have ever had of finding extraterrestrial life. And we will know if its inhabited within the next decade with the advent of a new generation of space telescopes capable of telling us if its atmosphere holds gases that ‘could only’ have been produced by living organisms.
Mind Blowing Potential Signs Of Extraterrestrial Life
The new research was funded by the European Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council; part of the UK Research and Innovation agency (UKRI). Headed up by Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL), she told reporters at the BBC that her team’s “incredible” detection of water on the planet, located in the habitable zone around a star, with a temperature that might support the presence of life - is “mind blowing”.
The scientific team behind the discovery compared planetary data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2016 and 2017 and established the types of chemicals in their atmosphere by studying changes measured in starlight while the planets orbited their suns. While sunlight filters through a planets' atmosphere its direction and color (temperature) is altered, and it is these tiny changes that the team compared.
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The Hubble Space Telescope was used to study exoplanet K2-18b, which could hold alien life. (Quibik / Public Domain)
Gasses Reveal Alien Presence
A star’s ‘habitable zone’ is the region where water might exist in liquid form and K2-18b is located as such, but according to UCL's Dr. Ingo Waldmann only the next generation of space telescopes, planned to be launched in the 2020s, will be able to see gases in planet's atmosphere that indicate alien life. Astronomers have detected water signatures on other planets but they have all been either too large or too hot to support life as we know it.
The researchers confirmed that the new planet’s temperature was cool enough for liquid water to have formed on its surface which is somewhere between 32-104 degrees Fahrenheit (0-40 degrees Celsius). And the scientists don’t think they are dealing with a cosmic puddle, quite the opposite, as computer models suggest that up to 50% of the planet’s atmosphere might be water.
A Paradigm Shift For Humanity
While space telescopes and computer hard drives are crunching their way through megatons of universal measurements, producing data, the BBC article says astronomers can't agree on which gases might constitute evidence of life on the remote planet. To take away this element, perhaps the chemical make-up of hundreds of similar worlds will have to be surveyed for comparative analysis to better understand their creation and evolution patterns, according to Professor Tinetti.
Astronomers know that the Milky Way has around 100 billion star systems that could conceivably host intelligent life, and if only one per million star systems had active civilizations that means there are around 100,000 active civilizations in our galaxy alone. And with exponential growth in signal processing and the prospective launch of NASA's much delayed James Webb Space Telescope in 2021, researchers will have examined one million potential life supporting candidates by 2034 which greatly increases the probability of discovery.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s most advanced space observatory. This engineering marvel is designed to unravel some of the greatest mysteries of the universe and will be able to help detect alien life on distant planets. (NASA's James Webb Space Telescope / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Speaking to BBC News, Dr. Beth Biller, at Edinburgh University's Institute of Astronomy, said she believed that evidence of life on a planet around a distant star would eventually be discovered and she said it would be “a paradigm shift for all of humanity”.
Will Religion Survive The Cosmic Upheaval?
It is around sentences like that last one that the extreme atheist community talk of the ‘collapse of religion’ declaring that you cannot have two Genesis’ and that the discovery of life anywhere else in the universe will bring religion to brutal halt. Not so. A 2011 paper written by Dr. Ted Peters and published by the Royal Society titled The implications of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life for religion asks if confirmation of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) will cause terrestrial religion to collapse?
The Harmony between Religion and Science, a ceiling fresco from 1735, located at Seitenstetten Abbey. (Uoaei1 / CC BY-SA 4.0)
‘No’ is the answer. If religion can survive Darwin, it can handle cosmic bacteria being discovered on another planet, and if advanced life forms are discovered, we might expect churchmen to talk of “multiple incarnations of Jesus” in an enhanced effort to scoop up all of creation, including the 13.7 billion year history of the universe, into its cosmic vacuum.
Top image: Exoplanet “K2-18b” is 50% water could possibly harbor alien life. Source: Sergey Nivens / Adobe Stock.
By Ashley Cowie