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Water Worlds...

In a new study, Asst. Prof. Edwin Kite finds ocean planets could stay in zone of habitability longer than previously assumed. Copyright istockphoto.com

Topics: Astronomy, Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Exoplanet, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

The conditions for life surviving on planets entirely covered in water are more fluid than previously thought, opening up the possibility that water worlds could be habitable, according to a new paper from the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University.

The scientific community has largely assumed that planets covered in a deep ocean would not support the cycling of minerals and gases that keeps the climate stable on Earth, and thus wouldn’t be friendly to life. But the study, published Aug. 31 in The Astrophysical Journal, found that ocean planets could stay in the “sweet spot” for habitability much longer than previously assumed. The authors based their findings on more than a thousand simulations.

“This really pushes back against the idea you need an Earth clone—that is, a planet with some land and a shallow ocean,” said Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at UChicago and lead author of the study.

As telescopes get better, scientists are finding more and more planets orbiting stars in other solar systems, called exoplanets. Such discoveries are resulting in new research into how life could potentially survive on other planets, some of which are very different from Earth—some may be covered entirely in water hundreds of miles deep.

Analysis by UChicago, Penn State scientists challenges idea that life requires ‘Earth clone’

Louise Lerner, University of Chicago News

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