Water vapour has been discovered in the atmosphere of an enormous Earth-like planet already known to have habitable temperatures, which scientists say means it could support life.
The unprecedented detection was made on K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of our home world.
It is known as an exoplanet because it orbits a star outside the solar system, and is the first of its kind that is known to feature both water and temperatures suitable for life to exist.
Those hoping to jump ship will be disappointed to hear that K2-18b is a whopping 110 light years from Earth, and may also have been exposed to dangerous radiation due to its highly active red dwarf star.
But the UCL researchers who made the discovery on K2-18b remain excited by the potential implications of their find, because they say it brings us closer to knowing whether Earth is truly unique.
Professor Giovanna Tinetti, the co-author of the study, told Sky News: “K2-18b might have a boring name, but it is a very exciting planet – it is the first super-Earth in which we can find there is an atmosphere.
“On top of that, there is water vapour in the atmosphere.
“What makes that really exciting is that the planet is in the so-called habitable zone.
“This means it has a temperature that is quite mild and temperate, so it is potentially good for life.”
The discovery, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, is the first successful atmospheric detection for an exoplanet orbiting in the “habitable zone” of its star, meaning it is at a distance where water can exist in liquid form.
Scientists used data captured by the NASA/European Space Agency Hubble space telescope in 2016 and 2017 as the basis of their study, and developed algorithms to analyse starlight being filtered through the atmosphere.
The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour.
The discovery also indicates the presence of hydrogen and helium, and the UCL team believes other molecules including nitrogen and methane may also be present, with further study required to reveal more.
Prof Tinetti said K2-18b, which was discovered in the Leo constellation in 2015, would likely be the first of many potentially habitable planets to be found.
It is one of hundreds of so-called super-Earths, defined as planets with a mass between Earth and Neptune, that have already been found by the NASA spacecraft Kepler.
Hundreds more are expected to be detected by another NASA mission, TESS, in the coming years.
Prof Tinetti said: “We want to make sure we analyse more planets, similar to K2-18b but perhaps also different, and extract more from K2-18b.
“We still don’t know exactly what it means, being habitable. We have a list that includes having an atmosphere, having water, having a temperature that is suitable for life, and this planet is ticking all the boxes.
“But it doesn’t mean that it is good for us as human beings. On Earth, there are many microbes and bacteria that are perfectly happy living in conditions that are very cold, very hot, very acidic and so on.
“So when we say habitable, it doesn’t necessarily mean for human beings.”
Dr Angelos Tsiaras, of the UCL Centre For Space Exochemistry Data, added: “K2-18b is not ‘Earth 2.0’ as it is significantly heavier and has a different atmospheric composition.
“However, it brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: Is the Earth unique?” Future space telescopes will be able to characterise atmospheres in more detail thanks to more advanced equipment.
One such telescope, known as ARIEL, is due to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2028 and will observe around 1,000 planets to paint a more detailed picture of what they are like.
Prof Tinetti, principal investigator for ARIEL, added: “By observing a large sample of planets, we hope to reveal secrets about their chemistry, formation and evolution.”
The research was funded by European Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.
One dead, several injured as gunman opens fire at Florida navy base | US News
One person has been killed and several others are injured after a gunman opened fire in a navy base in Florida.
Escambia Sheriff’s spokeswoman Amber Southard confirmed the gunman had also been killed after the shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola.
News outlets are reporting that 10 people have been taken to area hospitals.
Pensacola Police spokesman Mike Wood confirmed that law enforcement responded to the gunman.
A spokesman for the navy base, Jason Bortz, said both gates are closed and the base is on lockdown.
Blind killer Lee Hall who set fire to ex-girlfriend is executed in Tennessee | US News
A blind convicted killer who murdered his ex-girlfriend by setting her on fire has been executed in the US.
Lee Hall is only the second blind inmate to be executed in America since the country reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
He was put to death by electric chair – after choosing the method over lethal injection – at a maximum-security prison in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday evening.
Hall was convicted of killing 22-year-old Traci Crozier by setting her on fire in her car in April 1991.
The 53-year-old, who was formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr, had his sight upon entering prison, but lawyers say he became functionally blind from improperly treated glaucoma.
In his final words, Hall said: “People can learn forgiveness and love and will make this world a better place.”
According to court documents, Hall set Ms Crozier’s car alight while she was inside the vehicle after she had tried to leave him.
She suffered burns across more than 90% of her body and died in hospital the next day.
Ms Crozier’s sister, Staci Wooten, and her father, Gene Crozier, watched Hall’s execution. Hall’s brother David and the killer’s “spiritual adviser” also attended.
Ms Wooten said: “Hopefully today ending this monster’s life will bring some peace within everyone who has had to suffer throughout these 28 years without my beautiful sister.”
Lawyers for Hall had asked federal courts in the US to stop him from being put to death after other attempts in state courts and with Tennessee’s governor had failed.
Those attempts officially came to a halt less than hour before Hall’s execution when the US Supreme Court declined to intervene.
A statement from Hall’s brother David said: “We are devastated by the loss of Traci and now Lee.
“Lee loved Traci more than anything and we welcomed her into our family and love her too. We also love Lee and wish that we could have changed the events of that tragic day.”
Hall’s lawyers fought for months to delay the execution plan, arguing that courts should have had the opportunity to consider new questions about one of the jurors in his case.
The juror – a woman known as “Juror A” – helped hand down the death sentence against Hall.
She acknowledged publicly for the first time this year that she failed to disclose during Hall’s jury selection process that she had been repeatedly raped and abused by her former husband.
Hall’s lawyers argued the omission deprived him of a fair and impartial jury, a right protected in both the Tennessee and US constitutions
However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declined to intervene.
Manchester United sign deal with Alibaba in China | Business News
Manchester United have signed a partnership deal with Alibaba – the Chinese e-commerce company.
Under the arrangement, aimed at raising the Premier League side’s profile in the world’s second-largest economy, Alibaba will provide club content on its online video platform Youku.com.
The deal will also lead to the creation of a Manchester United store on Alibaba’s business-to-consumer platform Tmall.com, the club said.
Manchester United Group managing director Richard Arnold said: “We are always looking for new ways to engage with fans there and this partnership with Alibaba enables them to connect with the club directly through one of China’s most popular video streaming platforms.”
The club, which already has an established fan base in the country, said that the deal gave it access to approximately 700 million Alibaba customers across various platforms.
Youku viewers, it said, would be able to view academy and club tour matches in addition to women’s games.
Broadcast rights deals prevent the showing of Premier League and other first team fixtures.
Alibaba president Michael Evans added: “Manchester United is one of the most popular and successful football teams in the world, with a sizeable and passionate fan base in China.
“We share the same goal, which is to provide fans with one-of-a-kind online content consumption and shopping that leverages the latest technology.”
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