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‘Super earths’ may be even more habitable than our own planet, study says

“Super-Earths” outside our solar system that are rich in hydrogen or helium may be even more habitable than our own planet, a new study suggests.

Researchers say that rocky exoplanets with atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium have surfaces warm enough to hold liquid water.

The presence of liquid water is ‘beneficial for life’, so these planets could provide habitable conditions and exotic habitats for perhaps 8 billion years.

Researchers say rocky exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with primordial atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium, have surfaces warm enough to harbor liquid water

Researchers say rocky exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with primordial atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium, have surfaces warm enough to harbor liquid water

The new study is led by researchers from the University of Zurich, Switzerland and published today in the journal Natural Astronomy

EXOPLANTS AND SUPER EARTHS

An exoplanet is any planet outside our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but free-floating exoplanets called rogue planets orbit the galactic center and are not star-bound.

Exoplanets found so far include small, rocky worlds like Earth, gas giants many times larger than Jupiter, and “hot Jupiters” in blisteringly close orbits around their stars.

Meanwhile, a super-Earth is an exoplanet with a mass higher than our home planet.

Super-Earth can be made of gas, rock, or a combination of both.

They say these planets probably bear “very little resemblance to our home planet” and can harbor organisms under very high pressure.

“Life on the type of planet described in this work would live under significantly different conditions than most life on Earth,” the authors say.

‘The surface pressures in our results are in the order of 100-1000 bar, which is the pressure range of oceanic beds and trenches.

“There is no theoretical pressure limit for life, and some of the most extreme examples in Earth’s biosphere thrive at around 500 bar.”

Billions of years ago, the early Universe contained only hydrogen and helium, gases readily available in the planet-forming materials surrounding young stars, such as our sun.

Therefore, all the planets built up atmospheres dominated by these two elements, including the Earth.

“When the planet was first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it accumulated an atmosphere composed mainly of hydrogen and helium — a so-called primordial atmosphere,” said study author Ravit Helled of the University of Zurich.

Over the course of their evolution, rocky planets, including Earth, lost this primordial atmosphere in favor of heavier elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen.

When our planet was first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it accumulated an atmosphere composed mainly of hydrogen and helium - a so-called primordial atmosphere.

When our planet was first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it accumulated an atmosphere composed mainly of hydrogen and helium – a so-called primordial atmosphere.

However, other more massive planets can accumulate much larger primordial atmospheres, which in some cases can retain them indefinitely.

“Such massive primordial atmospheres could also cause global warming, much like Earth’s current atmosphere,” Helled said.

‘We therefore wanted to investigate whether these atmospheres can contribute to the creation of the necessary conditions for liquid water.’

For the study, the team modeled nearly 5,000 exoplanets, some bound to their stars and some free-floating, and simulated their evolution over billions of years.

Researchers took into account not only the properties of the planets’ atmospheres, but also the intensity of the radiation from their respective stars and the internal heat of the planets that radiated outwards.

While on Earth this geothermal heat plays only a minor role in surface conditions, it can make a greater contribution on planets with massive primordial atmospheres.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our solar system.  Most orbit other stars, but free-floating exoplanets called rogue planets orbit the galactic center and are not connected to a star (file photo)

An exoplanet is any planet outside our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but free-floating exoplanets called rogue planets orbit the galactic center and are not connected to a star (file photo)

Findings suggest that, depending on the planet’s mass and how far it is from its star, these planets could maintain a temperate surface environment for 8 billion years, provided the atmosphere is thick enough — between 100 and 1000 times thicker than the earth.

‘What we found is that in many cases primordial atmospheres were lost due to intense radiation from stars, especially on planets that are close to their stars,’ says Marit Mol Lous, PhD student and lead author.

“But in the cases where the atmosphere remains, the right conditions for liquid water can arise.”

“In cases where enough geothermal heat reaches the surface, radiation from a star like the sun is not even needed, so that conditions exist on the surface that allow the existence of liquid water.”

“Perhaps most importantly, our results show that these conditions can persist for a very long time – up to tens of billions of years.”

The researchers say instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently in space, and the Extremely Large Telescope, which is currently in development, should reveal more about biomarkers in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

NASA CONFIRMS OVER 5,000 PLANETS OUTSIDE OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

NASA has confirmed that there are more than 5,000 known planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

The US space agency has added another 65 exoplanets to the online NASA Exoplanet Archivebringing the total on April 1, 2022 to 5,009.

This number stood at 5,005 on March 22, showing that four planets had been added to the total in just 10 days.

As of June 8, there are 5,044 exoplanets, the database shows.

Exoplanets found so far include small, rocky worlds like Earth, gas giants many times larger than Jupiter, and “hot Jupiters” in blisteringly close orbits around their stars.

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy to date include a variety of species — including a mysterious variety known as

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy to date include a variety of species — including a mysterious variety known as “super-Earths” because they are larger than our world and may be rocky.

However, NASA emphasizes that only “a small fraction” of all the planets in the Milky Way galaxy have been found alone.

Most exoplanets are gaseous, like Jupiter or Neptune, rather than terrestrial, according to NASA’s Online Database

Most exoplanets are found by measuring the dimming of a star that happens to be facing a planet, called the transit method.

Another way to detect exoplanets, called the Doppler method, measures the “wobble” of stars due to the gravitational pull of planets orbiting the Earth.

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