A recently published study by NASA researchers suggests that there may be planets in the Milky Way galaxy other than Earth that have an ocean.
The research, published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, notes that more than a quarter of the 53 exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System) that were studied could potentially be “ocean worlds,” planets that have significant amounts of water. .
“Pillars of water sprout from Europe and Enceladus, so we can say that these bodies have subsurface oceans under their ice sheets and have energy that drives feathers, which are two requirements for life as we know it,” Lynnae Quick , NASA planetarium. Scientist and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “So if we are thinking of these places as possibly habitable, perhaps larger versions of them in other planetary systems are also habitable.”
Europa and Enceladus, moons that orbit Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, are icy celestial bodies that could harbor extraterrestrial life.
Quick, which specializes in volcanism and ocean worlds, and the other researchers observed exoplanets of Earth-like size, including a group of seven in the TRAPPIST-1 system, 39 light-years from Earth. A light year, representing distance in space, equals approximately 6 trillion miles.
In addition to size, they analyzed density, orbit, temperature, mass, and how far away the planets are from their star to reach their conclusions.
Based on their findings, these “ocean worlds” could release more energy than Enceladus and Europe, the researchers added.
“Future missions to look for signs of life beyond the solar system focus on planets like ours that have a global biosphere that is so abundant that it is changing the chemistry of the entire atmosphere,” explained the astrophysicist and co-author of the Goddard study of NASA Aki Roberge. “But in the solar system, icy moons with oceans, which are far from the sun’s heat, have still been shown to have the characteristics that we believe are necessary for life.”
Such future missions include the Europa Clipper mission (to be launched as soon as 2023), which will explore Europa’s surface and “possibly feel life.”
“The upcoming missions will give us an opportunity to see if the oceanic moons in our solar system could support life,” Quick added. “If we find chemical signatures of life, we can try to look for similar signs at interstellar distances.”
Researchers continue to gain new insight into the Milky Way. A study published earlier this month suggested that there could be as many as 6 billion “Earth-like” planets in the galaxy,
Another study published earlier this month suggested that there could also be 36 alien civilizations in the Milky Way, although many of them could be thousands of light-years away.
More than 4,000 exoplanets have been identified as of June 2020, of which approximately 50 are believed to be potentially habitable as of September 2018. They have the correct size and correct orbit for their star to withstand surface water and, theoretically at least, to support life.