We are not so unique as we initially thought. This is the conclusion scientists presented this week at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. A study conducted by Laura Schaefer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, MA and her team showed that oceans could be found on rocky exoplanets , some even 5 time bigger than the Earth.
According to the study, the same factors that together gave birth to our planet can be found on so-called “super-Earths” orbiting around distant starts. With the help of computer modeling researchers found that these exoplanets could possibly host oceans older than our planet itself.
All it takes is the right ingredients, working together for a period of millions maybe billions of years and the perfect timing for each agent to “work its magic”. The recipe for the perfect planet to host life includes a heated celestial body that cools down over a certain period of time, water provided by passing-by asteroids and certain organic and inorganic compounds such as: magnesium, silicon, iron, oxygen, aluminum, nickel, calcium and sulfur.
After the planet is created and oceans cover some parts of its surface, all it takes is patience, another few millions of years and of course, a bit of luck for life to start “happening”. As study co-author Dimitar Sasselov also said: “It takes time to develop the chemical processes for life on a global scale, and time for life to change a planet’s atmosphere. So it takes time for life to become detectable.”
The team used the HARPS-North instrument (HARPS stands for High-Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher ) on the 3.6-metre Telescopio Nazionale Galileo located in the Canary Islands to calculate the masses often known exoplanets. One of the planets the team focused on was a planet 1.5 times bigger than the Earth, with a 4.7 day orbit around its Sun, named Kepler-93b. The team calculated its mass to be 4.02 times greater than that of our planet, thus establishing its rocky composition.
Out of the ten investigated exoplanets scientists noticed that the density of larger planets was lower in comparison to the smaller ones, pointing out a bigger water proportion or the presence of volatile gases such as hydrogen or helium.
Scientists consider that the habitability of a planet can be better rated by analyzing the presence of oceans than by using indicators such as the planet’s temperature or its position in relation to its Sun. This is an aspect future space missions should take into consideration. As liquid water is the key factor when it comes to life, finding extra-terrestrial life should be based on finding planets with “long-lived oceans”.
Image Source: Wired
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