NASA’s James Webb Telescope has discovered possible evidence of alien life in the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet named K2-18 b.
This huge discovery, accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, reveals that researchers using the James Webb Telescope found a molecule called dimethyl sulfide (DMS).
This is important because DMS, at least here on Earth, can only be produced by living organisms.
K2-18 b, which is nine times the size of the Earth and located 120 light years from here, also has carbon dioxide and methane in its atmosphere.
The detection of these gases could also mean that the exoplanet has water.
“On Earth, DMS is only produced by life. The bulk of it in Earth’s atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments,” lead author of the study, Nikku Madhusudhan, an astrophysicist and exoplanetary scientist at the University of Cambridge, told BBC News.
“Our findings underscore the importance of considering diverse habitable environments in the search for life elsewhere,” Madhusudhan said in a statement.
“Traditionally, the search for life on exoplanets has focused primarily on smaller rocky planets, but the larger Hycean worlds are significantly more conducive to atmospheric observations.”
Next, the researchers will conduct follow-up research with the James Webb Telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) spectrograph.
“These results are the product of just two observations of K2-18 b, with many more on the way,” explained research team member Savvas Constantinou of the University of Cambridge. “This means our work here is but an early demonstration of what Webb can observe in habitable-zone exoplanets.”
Madhusudhan added, “Our ultimate goal is the identification of life on a habitable exoplanet, which would transform our understanding of our place in the universe.”