Boiled Alive: How Exoplanets With Large Reserves Of Liquid Water Could Be Deadly To Humans

Monday, 20 August 2018 - 11:16AM
Astronomy
Space
Astrobiology
Monday, 20 August 2018 - 11:16AM
Boiled Alive: How Exoplanets With Large Reserves Of Liquid Water Could Be Deadly To Humans
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When people hear the phrase "water world," their first thought is often a long-repressed memory of that Kevin Costner movie. However, it's also the term many astronomers and scientists use for exoplanets with large amounts of liquid water...

Which, surprisingly, aren't that rare.

According to new research by an international team of scientists, "35 percent of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich." Despite having one of the essential pieces to creating life, however, many of these planets are probably going to be even bleaker than the Waterworld domestic box office.



According to Li Zeng, the leader of the new study: "This is water, but not as commonly found here on Earth. Their surface temperature [of the exoplanets] is expected to be in the 200 to 500 degree Celsius (392º to 932º F) 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."

These water-dominated exoplanets probably formed in similar ways to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune, and are generally 2.5 times larger than Earth. Interestingly, planets that are around 1.5 times larger than Earth tend to be rocky, like Earth; it seems there's a correlation between the mass and size of a planet and its surface conditions.

This new research confirms a growing phenomenon in the hunt for habitable exoplanets: the realization that just because a planet has abundant water doesn't mean it will be a candidate for life, let alone habitable by humans. Even Trappist-1, one of the most promising exoplanet systems yet, may have the fatal flaw of too much water. Still, Michio Kaku and other scientists hypothesize that life may find a way to develop in the depths of alien oceans, and may end up looking more like octopi than Vulcans.
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