‘Mini-Neptunes’ could be leap forward in search for alien life

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A miniature Neptune-like planet, currently named K2-18b, that is twice the radius of Earth and more than eight times as massive may also be habitable, researchers now believe.

Signs of life in our galaxy may be detectable within two to three years on a new class of exoplanets, called hycean planets, according to a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

These hycean planets are hot, ocean-covered and with hydrogen-rich atmospheres, which are more numerous and observable than Earth-like planets. 


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“Hyceans are basically water worlds with hydrogen-rich atmospheres,” Nikku Madhusudhan, lead author and a researcher at the University of Cambridge, told The Guardian.

Madhusudhan said that an Earth-sized planet is so much smaller than a star like the sun, that its atmospheric signature — the chemical makeup indicated when light shines through — is weak, making evidence of life difficult to see from Earth.

However, hyceans can be more than twice the size of Earth, 10 times its mass and significantly hotter, with average atmospheric temperatures reaching almost 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The new thinking also increases the variety of molecules that may hint at the presence of life.

These planets are more common and their atmospheres are more readily detectable, Madhusudhan told The Guardian.

“We are saying that within two to three years we may see the first biosignature detection if these planets host life,” he said.


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