Exoplanets that can have liquid water at their surface are in the focus of the search for life outside of Earth. These planets, located in the so-called habitable zone, are ideal candidates for hosting alien life.
An international research team led by Lena Noack and including Attilio Rivoldini and Tim Van Hoolst of the ROB examined the habitability of water-rich planets in the habitable zone. These possible ocean worlds can contain thousands of Earth oceans and resemble a Neptune-like planet with liquid water at the surface. Deep down in the water, the high pressure forces water molecules to stick to each other and a high-pressure ice forms – cutting off life-essential nutrients that come from the rocky mantle. Still, these planets might be able to host life under the ice layer, as heat flowing out from the interior may be able to melt the high-pressure ice from underneath, leading to a thin habitable niche, as was now published in the scientific publication Icarus. Noack and colleagues investigated under which conditions this lower habitable ocean layer can exist. They find that less-massive planets or planets with small water fractions might be more likely to host life than planets with masses several times Earth’s mass and substantial amounts of water.
Their article has been highlighted by Nature Physics and New Scientist.
Original article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001910351630149X
Nature Physics highlights article: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v12/n7/full/nphys3822.html
New Scientist article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2093631-ocean-worlds-could-host-life-under-layers-of-high-pressure-ice/
Figure legend: Schematic possible interior structures of water-rich planets with liquid water at their surface: ocean, ocean-ice-ocean, ocean-ice
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