Scientists searching for life-bearing exoplanets have identified a new class of potentially habitable world.
To date, the search for habitable extrasolar worlds has focused mainly on the search for rocky terrestrial worlds with temperatures and atmospheric conditions similar to our own.
When it comes to finding life, however, we may need to think a little bit more outside the box.
Now according to a team of astronomers from Cambridge University\’s Institute of Astronomy, so-called \’Hycean\’ exoplanets – which have surfaces covered in water and atmospheres rich in hydrogen – could be the ideal place to look for signs of e̳x̳t̳r̳a̳t̳e̳r̳r̳e̳s̳t̳r̳i̳a̳l̳ life.
“Some of the conditions in the oceans of these worlds could be similar to habitable conditions in Earth\’s oceans, i.e. similar temperatures and pressures, presence of liquid water and energy from the star,” astronomer Nikku Madhusudhan told Science Alert.
“There are many open questions but this is only a first guess at this stage. The assumption is that if microbial aquatic life can form in these oceans in the same manner as they did on Earth then some of the biosignatures may also be common.”
The idea is certainly an intriguing one, especially considering that Hycean worlds are not at all uncommon. Up until now, however, they had been generally considered unsuitable for life due to atmospheric conditions and high pressures more typically associated with ice giants like Neptune.
Now according to the team, such planets may be able to support life after all.
If true, this expands the number of potentially habitable worlds significantly.