For decades, scientists have been searching for planets that may be able to support life. The latest research by scientists at Cambridge University has found a new class of planets outside our solar system which are very different from earth, but can still support life, though not in a way ideal for humans. The newly found exoplanets are full of oceans and host a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Two to three times bigger than earth and up to 10 times more massive, these planets are called ‘Hycean’ planets. “Hycean planets open a whole new avenue in our search for life elsewhere,” says Nikku Madhusudhan, the lead author of the study, in a statement. The study was published on August 26 in The Astrophysical Journal.
According to scientists, these planets lie outside the range of planets similar to earth, but they can still support life. Despite their differences in size, atmospheric pressure and temperature, these planets still have the abilities to host microbial life in their large oceans of liquid water. The microbial life that these planets can support are capable of living in extreme conditions on earth as well. The survivor aquatic microbes can live in a temperature as high as 120 degrees Celsius and pressures as high as 1000 bar.
Scientists believe that including such microbial life in their search for habitable planets has widened the ‘Goldilocks Zone,’ conditions on a planet that are deemed habitable.
Scientists believe that now that they are including this new class of planets in their search for habitable worlds, looking for biosignatures or molecular signatures that confirm their habitability may be easy, thanks to their larger size compared to earth-like planets.