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British Scientists Find Water for First Time in Atmosphere of Planet Outside Our Solar System

Researchers at University College London said Wednesday they found water vapor in a planet's air 110 light years from Earth

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British Scientists, Water, Atmosphere
A handout artist's impression released Sept. 11, 2019, by ESA/Hubble shows the K2-18b super-Earth, the only super-Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life. VOA

British scientists say they have found water for the first time in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.

Researchers at University College London said Wednesday they found water vapor in a planet’s air 110 light years from Earth that has temperatures suitable for life as we know it.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have been detected, but scientists say it is the only known exoplanet that has water, temperatures needed for life and a rocky surface.

It is not known if the planet, twice the size of Earth, eight times its mass, has water flowing on its surface.

British Scientists, Water, Atmosphere
British scientists say they have found water for the first time in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. Pixabay

But scientists say the so-called Super Earth is an ideal distance from its sun to conceivably harbor life.

The planet, known as K2-18b, was discovered in 2015 by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting,” said Angelos Tsiaras, lead author of the UCL report that was published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “K2-18b is not ‘Earth 2.0’ but it brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: Is the Earth unique?”

Scientists expect future space missions to detect hundreds of other exoplanets in coming decades.

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A new generation of space exploration instruments will be able to describe exoplanet atmospheres in much greater detail.

The European Space Agency’s ARIEL space telescope, for example, is scheduled for launch in 2028 and will observe some 1,000 planets, a sampling large enough to identify patterns and outliers. (VOA)

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Water Scarcity Not the Only Factor Driving Millions of People from Their Homes Each Year

In most cases, other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs contribute to the decision to leave

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Water, Scarcity, Home
Indian residents queue with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019. VOA

Water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year but is often not the only reason why they move, researchers told an international conference on Tuesday.

In most cases, other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs contribute to the decision to leave, they said.

They warned against over-simplifying the links between water and migration, and said many of those who do move – at least partly because of water-related pressures such as floods, droughts and pollution – may not travel far.

“International migration is very expensive and very risky and it lies beyond the reach of many of the poorest people who are most vulnerable to water security and drought,” said Guy Jobbins of the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

Water, Scarcity, Home
FILE – Newly-arrived women who fled drought queue to receive food distributed by local volunteers at a camp for displaced persons in the Daynile neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, in Somalia, May 18, 2019. VOA

Those who suffer water-related shocks to their livelihoods – losing animals or crops – “are less likely to have the funds to start again in South Africa or France”, he told an audience at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Conversely, there was some evidence to suggest that people who have better access to secure, affordable water are more likely to have enough financial resources to migrate, he added.

Although much is made of international migration, most movement related to water is inside countries, often from one rural place to another, said Sasha Koo-Oshima, deputy director of land and water at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Three out of four of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely heavily on agricultural production, with food insecurity, water contamination and drought forcing people from their homes – especially the young, she added.

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Efforts should be stepped up to prevent water scarcity and make it profitable for young people to stay on rural land, she said.

But if people do leave, “it is not necessarily a negative phenomenon”, as humans have always moved in search of a better life, she added.

Refugee scapegoats

Researchers also called for a more sophisticated analysis of how mass migration impacts on water supplies.

Water, Scarcity, Home
Water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year but is often not the only reason why they move, researchers told an international conference. Pixabay

In Jordan – the world’s second most water-scarce country, according to Hussam Hussein, a Middle East water researcher at Germany’s University of Kassel – a large influx of refugees from Syria, after civil war broke out there in 2011, led to tensions with their host communities, especially in cities.

Jordan hosts about 750,000 Syrians, the vast majority in urban areas, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). But contrary to public discourse, their presence is not the main cause of the country’s water shortages, said Hussein.

“When we look at the numbers, the impact of refugees is not as important as unsustainable use (of water) in the agricultural sector,” he said.

Mismanagement of water resources, leaks, illegal wells and intensive farming made up the majority of water losses in parched Jordan, he added.

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In war-torn Syria, water scarcity and climate-related events such as drought had been a “trigger” for the conflict but not a primary cause, said Fatine Ezbakhe of the Mediterranean Youth for Water Network.

Instead a lack of water amplified political instability and poverty that fueled migration and unrest, she added.

Now improvements to water supplies could be used to persuade people to return home, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we actually invest in water, we could… try to make people go back and restart (in) the rural areas they left in the first place,” she said. (VOA)