Water Is Common In Many Exoplanets, Study Says

Posted: Aug 19 2018, 1:41am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Water is Common in Many Exoplanets, Study Says
Credit: NASA

A new evaluation of data from Kepler telescope and Gaia mission indicates that many known planets may contain as much as 50 percent water.

Researchers estimate there may be many water worlds throughout our galaxy. These worlds likely contain vast amounts of water. If that’s the case, then we may be able to detect signs of life on some of those exoplanets in the coming decades.

The worlds orbiting a star other than the sun are called exoplanets and the first such planet was detected in 1992. Since then, around 4000 confirmed or candidate exoplanets have been discovered, ranging from gas giants larger than Jupiter to small, rocky planets like Mars and Earth. Scientists have been trying to understand whether some of these planets around other stars are similar to our own solar system and a new evaluation of data from the NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission indicates that many of the known planets may contain as much as 50% water. By comparison, Earth is just 0.02 percent water.

"It was a huge surprise to realize that there must be so many water-worlds,” said lead researcher Dr. Li Zeng from Harvard University. “Our data indicate that about 35% of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich. These water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system.”

One of the critical factors in determining if a planet could be habitable is the presence of liquid water on its surface, which is a key ingredient for life as we know it. Since we cannot currently visit exoplanets, scientists have used telescopes to search for this essential ingredient and found quite a few with signs of water. However, a water-world is an extreme case, which is an exoplanet completely covered with ocean.

All exoplanets or candidates discovered so far fall into two size categories: those with the planetary radius averaging around 1.5 that of the Earth and those averaging around 2.5 times the radius of the Earth. By combining the mass measurements and recent radius measurements of these exoplanets, researchers developed a model of their internal structure.

“We have looked at how mass relates to the radius and developed a model which might explain the relationship. The model indicates that those exoplanets which have a radius of x1.5 Earth radius tend to be rocky planets (of typically x5 the mass of the Earth), while those with a radius of x2.5 Earth radius (with a mass around x10 that of the Earth) are probably water worlds,” said Li Zeng.

"This is water, but not as commonly found here on Earth. Their surface temperature is expected to be in the 200 to 500 degree Celsius range. Their surface may be shrouded in a water-vapor-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath. Moving deeper, one would expect to find this water transforms into high-pressure ices before we reaching the solid rocky core. The beauty of the model is that it explains just how composition relates to the known facts about these planets.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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