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Liquid water can also exist on planets not similar to Earth

Liquid water is an essential component of the evolution of life as we know it. University of Bern, University of Zurich and NCCR (National Center for Competence at Research PlanetS) According to the new findings of researchers, even on planets that are completely different from Earth, liquid water can survive for billions of years. Life on Earth began in the oceans, so the presence of liquid water is a fundamental question in the search for extraterrestrial life. The natural astronomy New published in a scientific journal In the study Discuss the question whether it is worth focusing solely on Earth-like planets in the search for potentially habitable planets.

One of the reasons water remains liquid on Earth is our atmosphere. Thanks to the natural greenhouse effect, it traps just enough heat to create ideal conditions for oceans, rivers, and rain. On the other hand, the atmosphere of the ancient Earth was very different from that of today. When our planet first formed, it collected an atmosphere of gas and cosmic dust, especially hydrogen and helium. This is called the primordial atmosphere. During the history of its development, our Earth has lost this original atmosphere.

Other, more massive planets could have had a much thicker primordial atmosphere, which in some cases could hold on forever. The greenhouse effect can also occur in such massive atmospheres, which is why they examined whether ideal conditions for liquid water could also develop in them.

Planets with smaller masses and primitive atmospheres can also have temperature and pressure values ​​at which water can remain liquid. (Source: Thibaut Roger, University of Bern, University of Zurich)

During the research, they modeled the development of countless different planets, taking into account not only the characteristics of their atmosphere, but also the effects of their star’s radiation and some of the planets’ internal heat. While on Earth this geothermal heat plays only a small role in shaping surface conditions, it can have a larger impact on other planets.

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According to Marit Mole-Loss, lead author of the study, in most cases it was found that the primordial atmospheres of the planets were lost due to the intense radiation from their star, especially if the planets orbited close to the star. However, in those cases where the initial atmosphere was able to survive, the conditions may be ideal for liquid water. In cases where sufficient geothermal heat reaches the surface, the star’s radiation is not necessarily necessary for the presence of liquid water. Perhaps the most important finding of the research is that these conditions can persist for tens of billions of years.

This may be a surprising result, because we usually look for liquid water in the so-called habitable zone, where the planets orbit at a perfectly suitable distance from their star: here the radiation is not so strong that the water evaporates, and it is not so weak that everything freezes. Since the presence of liquid water is likely necessary for life as we know it, which is thought to have taken several million years to form, these findings greatly increase the number of ideal planets for possible extraterrestrial life. According to the new findings, life can develop even on vagrant and freely floating planets that do not orbit the star.

However, the research group that published the study cautions against caution. Although the results are exciting, it is important to approach them with some caution. For liquid water to stay on these planets for a long time, it needs just the right amount of atmosphere. It is not yet known how common this is. In addition, even under the right conditions, it is impossible to estimate the probability of life actually developing. The answer to this awaits researchers dealing with astrobiology. Despite all this, what is certain is that the new research has highlighted that it may be time to expand research focused primarily on Earth-like planets.

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source: Unib