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We have always thought about the possibility of an Earth-like planet that could support life. When we picture a planet like that, our minds portray a planet very similar to how earth looks – a combination of rocky mass and water.
For many years, we had set this model of rock and water combo as the standard for a life-sustaining planet. However, according to a new study conducted by the University of Chicago and Penn State, we may be able to expand our options!
A study that broadens our horizons
The latest study proposes that water worlds can also be added to the list of life-supporting planets as they can successfully maintain stable climatic conditions similar to that of the Earth. Researchers believe that geochemical reactions are the foundation for stable climatic conditions, hence acting as a viable container for life to thrive.
The major characteristic of a water world is that a significant part of the surface will be covered with water. Water worlds present themselves as a very interesting subject to astrobiologists due to their capabilities to support life.
Nevertheless, it was commonly believed that having an ever-spanning layer of water on a planet's surface will not facilitate geochemical reactions between the atmosphere and the land. The recent study goes against this belief system and states that ocean planets can indeed be habitable and can stay that way for billions of years.
The researchers ran multiple simulations to see how the interaction between the elements work out on an ocean planet and the results suggest that the conditions do stay stable.
The work pointed towards an argument that you don’t need a carbon copy of earth to support life. An ocean planet can also be a prime candidate in the list of exoplanets that can support life.
Researchers look for planets that have water and a stable climate when looking for life-sustaining planets. For having such conditions, the planet must also be at a certain distance from the sun.
If not, then water will be either in the form of steam or ice. The computer simulations ran by the researchers concluded that these geochemical interactions are not a must for having a stable climate.
An ocean of opportunities lying ahead
In essence, ocean planets too can have stable climates without geochemical reactions and can facilitate the formation of life.
The study undertook by the researchers certainly gives us a new perspective when selecting planets that could support life. The notion that only a planet with shallow oceans and visible land mass can sustain life is completely reshaped by these latest developments.
Ocean planets that are larger and have deeper oceans when compared to Earth can also become vessels for life to evolve. Researchers also believe that the simulations can be applied to study planets in the red dwarf systems, which are thought to be promising candidates for supporting life.
The findings of this study were published in the Astrophysical Journal.