Cambridge University researchers have discovered a new type of habitable planet. Their discovery could “completely change the understanding of life in the universe”.
Cambridge – It could be a big step in the search for life in space: astronomers have discovered a new kind of habitable planet. They are completely different from Earth: hot, but with oceans and a lot of hydrogen in the atmosphere.
The discoverers at the University of Cambridge in the UK named this new class hycean – a combination of “Hydrogenum” (Latin for hydrogen) and oceanic. The reason: The newly discovered planets have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a hot surface – covered with oceans.
Researchers refute previous assumption
So far, exoplanets – that is, celestial bodies outside the solar system – between Earth and Neptune were mostly known as either super-earths or mini-Neptunes. The latter are smaller than our Neptune – but too big to be made of rock like our home planet. For this reason, researchers previously assumed that their hydrogen-rich atmosphere was too hot and the air pressure too high to enable life.
Scientists from Cambridge have this assumption Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan now evidently refuted based on the mini-Neptune K2-18b. Because: The conditions there can make life possible, as their study showed. She was im Astrophysical Journal released.
Hyzean planets up to 2.6 times larger than Earth
According to this, hyzean planets can be up to 2.6 times the size of the earth and have a temperature of up to 200 degrees Celsius in the atmosphere, but the conditions in their oceans still allow microbes to live – just like on earth.
“Hyzean planets open up completely new possibilities for us in our search for life out there,” explains Dr. Madhusudhan. Because such celestial bodies are in the majority of the exoplanets discovered so far. However, they have not yet been thoroughly investigated – in contrast to the super-earths.
“If we were to find a biosignature there, it would completely change our understanding of life in the universe”
In their search, the researchers are primarily looking for so-called biomarkers such as methyl chloride and dimethyl sulfide. They indicate life on planets that do not have such an oxygen-rich atmosphere as Earth.
Researchers now want to take a closer look at planets
Dr. Madhusudhan. “But we think that the hyzean planets now offer a better chance of finding traces of biosignatures”.
The ensemble of planets that the Cambridge scientists have identified as hyzean is now to be examined in more detail with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). These celestial bodies are all located in the solar system of a so-called “red dwarf” and are not far away for astronomical conditions at 35 to 150 light years.
This also includes K2-18b. The researchers also want to examine it more closely with the telescope. “If we were to find a biosignature there, it would completely change our understanding of life in the universe,” says Dr. Madhusudhan. (Jan Wendt)
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