The way we define habitable planets may shift, signaling a ‘paradigm shift’ in the search for life.
Two different groups of scientists have looked into what makes a planet beyond the solar system, also known as an exoplanet, habitable, and have come up with answers that could change how and where we look for life in the Universe.
Nikku Madhusudhan of the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy investigated Hycean planets, a name he developed to describe a water-rich planet with an atmosphere consisting primarily of molecular hydrogen and a surface covered fully in ocean. Meanwhile, Noah Tuchow, a Ph.D. student in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, wondered how the habitability zones around stars evolve over time.
Both research have the potential to change our perceptions of what constitutes a livable planet and where astronomers look for such worlds in star systems other than our own.
This search has so far concentrated on Earth-like terrestrial worlds in the zone surrounding a star where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist. Astronomers have dubbed it the Goldilocks zone because it describes a region that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just perfect.
Because they can hold liquid water outside of what is considered the standard Goldilocks zone, considering Hycean worlds widens the probable spectrum of habitable planets.
“Hycean planets can be substantially larger, as well as significantly hotter or cooler, than planets previously considered for habitability,” Madhusudhan told This website.
Madhusudhan, who is the principal author of a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal about Hycean worlds, claims that there are more of these planets beyond the solar system’s limits than there are rocky worlds like Earth, and that their atmospheres are suitable for study.
Hycean planets are easy to find and analyze since they are huge and plentiful in the exoplanet population, according to Madhusudhan. “All of these characteristics enable a considerably broader variety of planets to be considered potentially habitable and, as a result, searched for signs of life, greatly increasing our odds of discovering life elsewhere.
“This science has the potential to change the way we look for life.”
Madhusudhan and his colleagues have already discovered 11 possibilities for Hycean worlds orbiting nearby stars, with the conditions of a Hycean world being the first to be discovered. This is a condensed version of the information.