A lot of people assume that life must exist only on planets similar to Earth. But, they just lack imagination. Even Hycean worlds could host life.
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The hunt for exoplanets has told us a lot about ourselves. As we discover more and world worlds we are getting sure that our imagination sucks. We had ourselves fooled by the planets of our own Solar system. Because they seem quite diverse we assumed they are a good example of the diversity of the planets of the Universe. But now we know we were completely wrong.
In the case of searching for life, our blindness is most likely even greater. While understandable, we only know of a single planet with life – Earth. So, we usually search the Universe for other Earths and hope that’s where we will find alien organisms. Luckily, we could be completely wrong.
Nikku Madhusudhan from the University of Cambridge and his coworkers tracked down a completely new category of planets that could be inhabited with life similar to our own. These are called Hycean world – coming from the words HYdrongen and oCEAN. These planets are practically completely covered with water with a misty atmosphere filled with hydrogen. In other words, imagine the movie Waterworld.
This might not sound like that much of a revolutionary idea but it is the bomb for astrobiologists. This is because Hycean worlds seem to be more common than Earth-like planets. And that’s not all. For example, compared to Earth-like planets they have a much bigger habitable zone. And as many potential Hycean worlds are bigger and hotter than Earth they could have conditions where some of Earth’s organisms could easily thrive.
Hycean planets can be up to 2.6 bigger than Earth and their atmosphere’s temperatures can reach up to 200° Celsius. Yet, their oceans could have conditions for life similar to life on Earth could exist. At this time, we know of two types of Hycean worlds – Dark Hycean Worlds that are tidally locked with their star on which areas, where the night is eternal, could host life and then Cold Hycean Worlds that get little energy from their star.
Researchers are convinced that Hycean worlds could also come with biomarkers that would allow us to know whether they have life or not. Soon enough we could achieve this with spectroscopic observations. Sadly, the question of whether biomarkers are proof of the existence of life isn’t fully settled.
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