As revealed by astronomers, "We are a hundred times more likely to find liquid water than we thought..."
Scientists say we are 100 times more likely to find water and life on exoplanets.
How common are planets like Earth, and how common is water on distant exoplanets? A groundbreaking analysis has unveiled an increased possibility of discovering life beyond Earth, emphasizing the potential for subsurface liquid water on exoplanets. Dr. Lujendra Ojha, from Rutgers University, USA, spearheaded this innovative study. Presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Lyon, France, and published in Nature Communications, the study brings newfound hope in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Scientists are a 100 Times More Likely to Find Water and Life on Exoplanets
Ojha and his team uncovered two key mechanisms that could allow water to remain liquid beneath the icy surfaces of certain exoplanets. The analysis suggests that even if atmospheric conditions aren’t conducive to maintaining liquid water on the surface, it could still exist underground.
According to Ojha, if Earth lost its greenhouse gases, the surface temperature would plummet to about minus 18 degrees Celsius, freezing most surface water. But, as seen in places like Antarctica and the Canadian Arctic, heat from internal radioactivity can keep water liquid beneath the surface. Similar phenomena could be happening on Mars.
Promising Moons and Stars
Despite their frozen surfaces, moons like Europa and Enceladus maintain underground water bodies due to gravitational heating. These moons, orbiting gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, are prime candidates for life within our solar system.
The study focused on exoplanets orbiting M dwarfs – cooler, smaller stars that comprise 70% of our galaxy and host most known rocky, Earth-like exoplanets.
“We considered only the heat generated by the planet and found that many exoplanets orbiting M dwarfs could potentially support liquid water, more than previously thought,” Ojha explained.
A Future Full of Exploration
Previously, it was thought that only one in 100 rocky exoplanets per star could have liquid water. The new model suggests the ratio could be closer to one per star, increasing the odds of finding liquid water a hundredfold.
NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, slated for 2024, aims to explore one such icy moon with suspected underground oceans. While not involved in the study, Professor Abel Méndez from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo highlighted the challenge of detecting these hidden habitats through future telescopes.
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