Astronomers found water vapour in the atmosphere of a potentially inhabitable planet which is twice the size and eight times the mass of Earth.

The study’s lead author, Greek-born Angelos Tsiaras, presented the exciting findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.

This is the first time that scientists have been able to detect water in the atmosphere of a smaller-sized planet orbiting in the star’s habitable zone, as previously water had been detected in the atmospheres of massive super-hot Jupiter-like gas giants.

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The University College London report describes the conditions on the planet known as K2-18 b.

Dr Tsiaras described the finding as “incredibly exciting” and  said: “It is significantly heavier and it has a different atmospheric composition. However it brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: Is the Earth unique?”

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