Exoplanets could host abundant life - even BETTER than Earth, scientists discover

Study: There May Be Exoplanets Out There Even Better Suited For Life Than Earth

Study: There May Be Exoplanets Out There Even Better Suited For Life Than Earth

In the ongoing search for worlds outside of our solar system, scientists often compare newly-discovered planets with our own as they offer educated guesses about their potential to support life.

The massive distances to the exoplanets mean that they are basically impossible to reach with the help of space probes, and this means that scientists have been trying to figure out a solution.

"We should target the subset of habitable planets that will be most favourable to large, globally active biospheres because those are the planets where life will be easiest to detect - and where non-detections will be most meaningful", Olson said. These conditions stimulate ocean circulation, which brings nutrients from the depths to the surface where it's available for biologic activity.

"One of the things we don't really understand particularly well in the exoplanet community is how oceans on some of these planets might be working", said Chris Reinhard, professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the new study. This new research adds some parameters that could be employed in future searches.

"NASA's search for life in the universe is focused on so-called "habitable zone" planets, which are worlds that have the potential for liquid water oceans", Olson said.

"But not all oceans are equally hospitable - and some oceans will be better places to live than others due to their global circulation patterns".

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The first criterion that has so far been used 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 boil, nor so cold that they would freeze.

The research found that thicker atmospheres, slower rotations and the presence of continents all created higher upswelling rates.

It's not because these other, hypothetically habitable exoplanets are devoid of humans (though Earth's biodiversity would definitely be looking better without us). 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.

The researchers were able to use their models to determine what kinds of planets were most likely to be able to develop and sustain a variety of life.

"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", said Chris Reinhard, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor who was not involved in the study. By studying Earth's oceans and simulating climates and ocean systems on exoplanets, Olson's team discovered that Earth's oceans are far from ideal. "Dr. Olson's work represents a significant and exciting step forward in our understanding of exoplanet oceanography".

The full findings of the study were presented at the 2019 Goldschmidt conference, which was held in Barcelona from August 18-23.

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