Water world planets could have stable climate, perhaps support life, study

Such planets could remain habitable for over a billion years.

Artist's conception of a planet covered with a global ocean. A new study finds that these water worlds could maintain stable climates and perhaps sustain life
Artist's conception of a planet covered with a global ocean. A new study finds that these water worlds could maintain stable climates and perhaps sustain life. Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser

According to a new study by the University of Chicago and Penn State, planets with water worlds could maintain surface conditions as like as earth. The study suggests that such planets could stay in the “sweet spot” for habitability for over a billion years, much longer than previously assumed.

Researchers attributed the long haul habitability of the Earth to the cycling of minerals and gasses between Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and mantle through procedures, for example, volcanism and plate tectonics. Subsequently, a significant part of established researchers has accepted that geochemical cycling is essential for the development of cutting-edge life on another planet.

Scientists based this new finding on more than a thousand simulations that model the formation of the rocky planets and how the temperature and chemistry of oceans and atmospheres change with time.

Penn State Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Eric Ford said, “Planet formation models predict that most rocky planets would be quite different than the Earth. For example, many rocky planets are expected to harbor much more water than the Earth and be covered in a deep global ocean.”

“While astronomers have discovered thousands of small planets that orbit stars beyond the sun, present observations are not able to detect the ocean of a rocky planet, even if its ocean were hundreds of miles deep.”

Scientists used powerful computers to simulate the formation of planetary systems. In order to understand the implications of a global ocean for a planet’s climate and habitability, they then teamed up to see how much water is delivered to rocky planets and to track carbon dioxide as it moves between the planet’s ocean, atmosphere, and rocks in a planet’s early years.

While assessing which planets are most encouraging to search for indications of life, researchers generally search for planets that have both water and a stable climate. The procedures that assistance control Earth’s atmosphere over long timescales wouldn’t work away at a water world, because of deep water covering the stone and suppressing volcanoes.

Scientists were keen to know if there’s another way. Given the profoundly clamorous procedure of planet formation, they led a huge number of simulations, following the amount of water and advancement of the rocky planets’ atmospheres more than billions of years.

Ford said, “These simulations suggest that water world planets could remain habitable for over a billion years, even without geochemical cycling or plate tectonics, like we have on Earth.”

“The Habitable Zone Planet Finder, built at Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, recently began searching for low-mass planets around red dwarf stars. The planets it discovers and characterizes will be among the best candidates to search for biosignatures. This study suggests that water worlds orbiting red dwarf stars might also have a stable climate, even without geochemical cycles, potentially giving life on these planets time to create atmospheric biosignatures that could be detected by future space missions.”

The study is published in the Astrophysical Journal.