Study Shows Alien Exoplanets May be More Hospitable to Life than Earth

Monday, 26 August 2019 - 10:22AM
Space
Alien Life
Monday, 26 August 2019 - 10:22AM
Study Shows Alien Exoplanets May be More Hospitable to Life than Earth
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We have it pretty good here on the third rock from the Sun. The climate is temperate – cooler than Mercury, warmer than Mars – and we have an abundance of liquid water which, in addition to keeping us alive, supports all other lifeforms as well. You might think of Earth as a pretty good universal model for life-giving planets, especially given the fact that we've yet to find so much as a single-celled organism anywhere else (I still think we should be spraying the surface of Mars with sugar water to see what happens, but NASA won't answer my calls), and we'd agree: it is "pretty good." A new study, however, suggests that while it may be pretty good, other planets could be far better in supporting an even wider array of lifeforms.


The study was presented at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress in Barcelona last week and suggested that watery exoplanets, as modeled using NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies' (GISS) ROCKE-3D simulation software, could possess topographical, atmospheric, and oceanic characteristics that would make them ideal for supporting life. The presentation was delivered by Dr. Stephanie Olson of the University of Chicago who later explained in a statement that the researchers "used an ocean circulation model to identify which planets will have the most efficient upwelling and thus offer particularly hospitable oceans. We found that higher atmospheric density, slower rotation rates, and the presence of continents all yield higher upwelling rates."


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A further implication is that Earth might not be optimally habitable – and life elsewhere may enjoy a planet that is even more hospitable than our own.
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Upwelling refers to the action of the wind on surface water which creates currents bringing nutrients from the lower reaches of the oceans to the surface, where they can be used to support biological activity. "These," Olson says, "are the conditions we need to look for on exoplanets."


The study, Olson says, could change the way we look for exoplanets in the hope of finding life or life-supporting environments. "There will always be limitations to our technology, so life is almost certainly more common than 'detectable' life. This means that in our search for life in the Universe, we should target the subset of habitable planets that will be most favorable to large, globally active biospheres because those are the planets where life will be easiest to detect – and where non-detections will be most meaningful."


For now, we'd do well to take care of the one planet we know for certain can support life: Earth.
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