Some exoplanets could be better suited to harbor life than Earth

James Marshall
August 24, 2019

Scientists have presented new work at the Keynote Lecture at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress in Barcelona, claiming that they have located several exoplanets that have the required conditions to harbor life.

Some exoplanets could have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself, according to a new study that used computer modeling to explore the conditions that could exist on different types of exoplanets.

"We expect oceans to be important in regulating some of the most compelling remotely detectable signs of life on habitable worlds, but our understanding of oceans beyond our solar system is now very rudimentary", Chris Reinhard, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in the same statement.

These oceans have similar upswelling to Earth's, and because this creates an upward flow of nutrients from the depths of oceans to the sunlit portions where photosynthetic life lives, meaning there is a nutrient resupply and more biological activity.

Astronomers are constantly searching for life elsewhere in the universe and everyday we move closer to answering that big question - are we alone out here?

Olson and her team modelled likely conditions on exoplanets using ROCKE-3D software developed by NASA to simulate the climates and ocean habitats on a whole number of exoplanet variants.

So far, the first criterion in the search for habitable exoplanets has been whether a planet is in the "habitable zone" - where temperatures are not so hot that liquid oceans would vaporise, nor so cold that they would freeze.

"But not all oceans are equally hospitable - and some oceans will be better places to live than others due to their global circulation patterns". The same is likely true on habitable exoplanets, Olson said, which means that planets with conditions that favor more ocean upwelling may also favor strong biodiversity.

"We have used an ocean circulation model to identify which planets will have the most efficient upwelling and thus offer particularly hospitable oceans".

Now much of the search for life on exoplanets focuses on those in the habitable zone, which is the range of distances from a star where a planet's temperature allows liquid water oceans, critical for life on Earth.

"This is a surprising conclusion", Olson said.

They found that thicker atmospheres combined with slower rotation rates and the presence of continents all produced higher upwelling rates.

Alien planets with more favorable ocean-circulation patterns might support life in even greater abundance and variety than our own world does, the study determined. This, Olson says, suggests that Earth may not be the flawless place for life as we know it and that other planets may be even more habitable than our own.

This new research adds some parameters that could be employed on future searches, and may even inform the development of instrumentation optimised for detecting said parameters.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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