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Did James Webb find life on an alien planet? What you need to know

Published Jan 17th, 2024 5:03PM EST
alien world orbiting star
Image: dottedyeti / Adobe

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Whenever the James Webb Space Telescope makes a shocking new discovery, it’s sure to make headlines. In fact, I write about Webb’s observations and data quite a bit here, and I’ve even done my best to keep up with an ultimate guide to James Webb for those who want to follow along. However, recent rumors that Webb found alien life on another planet have started to circle. Are they true? No, they aren’t. At least not yet.

These rumors have sparked quite a debate in the scientific community, and while many say that we haven’t found alien life just yet, others argue that we’re going to get a paper with strong evidence of alien life on an exoplanet very soon. But does that mean we’ve found life?

The short answer, of course, is no; that doesn’t mean we have found evidence of alien life. It just means that Webb has picked up what could possibly be the biosignature of alien life on another planet. See, a planet known as K2-18 b is at the center of all this debate. And that planet seems to have given off strong signals of biological life.

James Webb telescopeImage source: Vadimsadovski / Adobe

However, as Ars Technica points out, this doesn’t mean that we’ve found life. This all has to be verified, for one. And secondly, this wouldn’t be the first time that scientists have jumped to a conclusion before having all the answers. In fact, we had someone claiming they’d found alien tech at the bottom of the ocean last year. But, more in-depth analysis showed the items were likely just debris.

The real culprit here is a molecule known as dimethyl sulfide. Webb detected this on K2-18 b last year, and many have debated over what it could mean. See, on Earth, this particular molecule is only made by living things. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist separate from alien life on K2-18 b. As such, we can’t definitively say that dimethyl sulfide existing on the planet is evidence that Webb detected alien life.

It’s a very nuanced thing, but that’s just how things tend to go when it comes to space exploration and scientific discoveries of this nature. Perhaps future investigations of K2-18 b will present the evidence we need to say we have detected alien life definitively. Or, perhaps further investigations will completely debunk these claims. I suppose we will see.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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