New study boosts chances of finding water and life in the universe

Artist’s impression, frozen world with sub-surface ocean. Credit: Lujendra Ojha.

Exciting research presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference has revealed that the probability of finding Earth-like exoplanets with liquid water, and potentially supporting life, is much higher than previously believed.

Scientists have discovered that even if a planet’s surface is frozen, there are geological conditions underground that can generate enough heat to sustain liquid water.

This groundbreaking finding significantly increases our chances of locating environments where life could potentially thrive.

The presence of liquid water is crucial for supporting life as we know it. This research demonstrates that water might exist in unexpected places, greatly expanding the possibilities for habitable exoplanets.

Lead researcher Dr. Lujendra Ojha from Rutgers University explains that there are two main ways in which enough heat can be generated to maintain liquid water beneath a planet’s surface, even if the surface itself is frozen.

On Earth, greenhouse gases in our atmosphere currently keep the average surface temperature stable and allow for liquid water.

However, in the past, Earth experienced freezing surface conditions while still hosting liquid water underground. Heat generated from radioactivity deep within the Earth can warm the water, as observed in underground lakes in places like Antarctica and the Canadian Arctic.

Similarly, moons in our solar system, such as Europa and Enceladus, have substantial underground liquid water despite their frozen surfaces.

The gravitational effects of large planets they orbit, like Saturn and Jupiter, create internal heat, making these moons potential candidates for life within our own solar system.

The study focused on planets orbiting M-dwarfs, a common type of star that is smaller and colder than our Sun.

Approximately 70% of stars in our galaxy belong to this category, and most rocky, Earth-like exoplanets discovered to date orbit M-dwarfs.

By considering the heat generated by the planet itself and the possibility of water generated by radioactivity, the researchers developed a model to assess the feasibility of sustaining liquid water on these exoplanets.

The analysis revealed that a high percentage of exoplanets around M-dwarfs have the potential for liquid water, far exceeding previous estimates. Prior to this study, it was believed that only about 1 in 100 stars would have a rocky planet with liquid water.

However, the new model suggests that this number could approach 1 planet per star. In other words, our chances of finding liquid water, and potentially life, are approximately a hundred times greater than previously thought.

With around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, these odds provide an exciting prospect for the existence of life elsewhere in the universe.

The groundbreaking research presented by Dr. Lujendra Ojha and his team unveils a promising outlook for discovering water and potentially habitable exoplanets.

The study shows that liquid water may exist in surprising places, such as underground reservoirs beneath frozen surfaces. This exciting revelation significantly increases the probability of finding environments suitable for life beyond our planet.

As scientists continue to explore the vastness of the universe, the search for water and the potential for extraterrestrial life takes a big leap forward.

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