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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.

The K2-18b planet
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The exoplanet is the first of its kind that is known to feature both water and temperatures suitable for life to exist
K2-18B is said to have habitable temperatures but things like ice and rock are on the planet is unclear
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K2-18b is said to have habitable temperatures but whether there are substances like ice and rock on the planet is unclear

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.

K2-18b, which is much bigger than Earth, is 110 million light years away
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K2-18b is 110 light years from Earth and much bigger
The K2-18b planet
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K2-18b orbits a star outside of our solar system

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.

Professor Giovanna Tinetti told Sky News the super-Earth was not necessarily suitable for humans
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Professor Giovanna Tinetti told Sky News the super-Earth was not necessarily suitable for humans

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.

Scientists used data from the Hubble space telescope, seen here floating above the Earth. Pic: NASA/ESA
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Scientists used data from the Hubble space telescope, seen here floating above the Earth. Pic: NASA/ESA

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.

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Saudi Arabia drone attacks – Johnson refuses to rule out military action | World News

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Britain has formally identified Iran as being behind drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabian oil fields, raising the chance of the UK joining military efforts in the Middle East.

Boris Johnson says the UK government is attributing responsibility to the regime in Tehran “with a very high degree of probability”.

Flying to New York for the UN General Assembly, the prime minister said he wanted to “de-escalate tensions” but refused to rule out taking part in any coordinated military action if Britain is asked to do so.

The prime minister says he has  the 'greatest respect' for the judiciary in the UK
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The PM has refused to rule out military action against Iran

The UK has followed the United States and Saudi Arabia in pointing the finger of blame at Iran, rather than accepting the claims of responsibility by Houthi rebels for the attacks a week ago – the Iranians have denied any involvement.

Drone and cruise missile strikes crippled the Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia, a key part of the country’s oil production infrastructure.

Mike Pompeo
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Mike Pompeo described the attacks an ‘act of war’

Mike Pompey, the US Secretary of State, has called the attacks an “act of war”.

Mr Johnson has made it clear that he was prepared to consider all requests for assistance as he prepares to meet both President Donald Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in the sidelines of the UN meeting.

Donald Trump was said to have been close to his personal assistant
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The PM will meet Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson said: “Everyone wants to do what they can to bring the world together in response to what happened in Saudi Arabia in our management of Iran.

“The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks. We think it is very likely that Iran was indeed responsible. Using both UAVs, both drones and cruise missiles. The difficulty is how do we organise a global response – what is the way forward?

“We will be working with our American friends and our European friends to construct a response that tries to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf region.”

Workers at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq
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Workers at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq

Britain is understood to have concluded that the Houthis claim it is responsible is implausible, based on imagery which sources said show remnants of Iranian-made missiles that have a range and sophistication inconsistent with the Houthis.

This level of sophistication, Britain believes, points to Iranian involvement which the British government has conclude is implausible without authorisation by the Iranian government

Asked whether he would rule out military action and stick with the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Johnson replied: “Well – on what kind of action we could take, you’ll have seen the Americans are proposing to do more to help to defend Saudi Arabia.

“We will be following that closely and clearly if we are asked by the Americans or Saudis to have a role, we will consider in what way we can be useful.”

Pressed on whether this could mean Britain taking part in military action, he replied: “We will consider all (options) if asked and depending on what exact plan.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is reunited with her daughter after being granted a temporary release from prison
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since 2016

Mr Johnson said he would be raising the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British Iranian jailed national when he meets with President Rouhani.

“On Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other very sad dual national consular cases held in Tehran, as you can imagine in the course of my talks with President Rouhani which I will also be having – in my talks with President Rouhani I will not only be discussing Iran’s actions in the region but the need to release not just Nazanin but others, and I will argue they are being illegally held.”

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Archie heads to South Africa for first royal tour with mum and dad | World News

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Harry and Meghan’s baby Archie will arrive in South Africa with his parents this morning for their first official tour as a family.

It is unclear how soon the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be seen with their son after their arrival in Cape Town, as there is no formal photo opportunity at the airport.

The palace said this was due to South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa being at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Buckingham Palace said earlier this month that they were hoping Archie would make a public appearance but were sorting out the details.

The palace said the couple are looking forward to the 10-day tour which will see them visit Cape Town and Johannesburg, with Prince Harry also travelling alone to Botswana, Angola and Malawi.

Duke of Sussex says he will only have two children because of climate change concerns
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Archie was born in May this year and was introduced to the world by his parents

The prospect of seeing five-month-old Archie on his first overseas tour has increased international media attention, with 80 travelling media accredited to cover the trip, along with another 300 local journalists, TV crews and photographers.

It comes after a difficult summer for the Sussexes, including criticism of the £2m bill to refurbish Frogmore Cottage, and suggestions they were being hypocritical for using private jets for their holidays while campaigning about issues around climate change. Some royal commentators see this tour as an opportunity to rebuild their reputation.

One of the issues the couple will focus on is gender-based violence, as their visit follows a series of protests in South Africa against the increase in the number of women being raped and murdered. Mr Ramaphosa admitted the country is facing a national crisis of violence against women, and Meghan is expected to show support for those campaigning on the issue.

Zintle Olayi, the Cape Town spokesperson for #TheTotalShutdown intersectional women’s movement, told Sky News: “I think our country is really broken, and we’re not ok and I’m not sure really how we are going to receive them coming here but definitely it couldn’t hurt to have someone of that profile or that magnitude to speak on the issues of gender-based violence.”

Talking about the impact Meghan could have, Ms Olayi added: “It means the state will take us seriously, the private sector will take us seriously and in general men in South Africa will take us seriously, seeing someone as Meghan speaking against the behaviour men inflict on women on a daily basis.”

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The first engagement of the tour will be at a township in Cape Town where the Sussexes will view a workshop that teaches children about their rights, self-awareness and safety and which provides self-defence classes and female empowerment training to young girls in the community.

They will then go to the District Six Museum to learn about how they are reuniting members of the community forcibly relocated during the apartheid era, when more than more than 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes.

WOKINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor attend The King Power Royal Charity Polo Day at Billingbear Polo Club on July 10, 2019 in Wokingham, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
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Harry and Meghan were seen with baby Archie at the polo in July

Shahied Ajam was living there at the time and now helps those still fighting to return. Speaking about the royal visit and the painful legacy of apartheid, he said: “For Prince Harry to come here, I must say, is a big step towards the what we call the healing process. If people see Harry and talk to him, maybe he will understand and identify with their plight.”

He added: “In regards to the history of the English, or Britain, in this country, if we speak in terms of colonialism we can’t wipe that away but Harry being of a new generation can turn the tables with a gesture. With a practical and tangible gesture to say to the people of District Six: ‘I’m here for you’.”

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<a href='https://news.sky.com/story/sky-views-athletics-is-rarely-mentioned-and-it-only-has-itself-to-blame-11817526' target='_blank'>Athletics is rarely mentioned and it only has itself to blame</a>

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