Space: Astronomers discover new types of habitable planets

The exoplanet K2-18b (right) could harbor life.

© M. Kornmesser / dpa

University of Cambridge researchers have discovered a new type of habitable planet. This discovery could “completely change the concept of life in the universe.”

Cambridge – It could be a big step in the search for life in space: astronomers have discovered a new type of habitable planet. It is very different from Earth: hot, but with oceans and a lot of hydrogen in the atmosphere.

Discoverers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom named this new class hycean – a mixture of “Hydrogenum” (Latin for hydrogen) and Oceanic. The reason: The newly discovered planets have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a hot surface – covered in oceans.

Exoplanets: Researchers refute previous assumptions

Until now, the outer planets – that is, celestial bodies outside the solar system – between Earth and Neptune were mostly known as super-Earths or mini-Neptunes. The latter is smaller than Neptune – but it’s too big to be made of rocks like ours is. For this reason, researchers previously assumed that the hydrogen-rich atmosphere was too hot and the air pressure too high to enable life.

Scientists from Cambridge made this assumption Doctor. Nico Madhusudan Now clearly debunked based on the mini Neptune K2-18b. Because: The conditions there can make life possible, their study showed. Im was Astrophysical Journal chest.

Hazen planets are up to 2.6 times larger than Earth

According to this, hyzean planets can be up to 2.6 times the size of Earth and have a temperature of up to 200 degrees Celsius in the atmosphere, but conditions in their oceans still allow microbes to live – just like on Earth.

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Dr. explains. Madhusudan. Because these celestial bodies are present in the majority of exoplanets discovered so far. However, they have not yet been thoroughly investigated – unlike the super-terrestrial planets.

In their research, the researchers mainly look for so-called biomarkers such as methyl chloride and dimethyl sulfide. It refers to life on planets that do not have such an oxygen-rich atmosphere as Earth.

Now researchers want to take a closer look at the planets

Doctor. Madhusudan. “But we think hyzean planets now present a better chance of finding biosignature traces.”

“If we find a biosignature there, it will completely change our understanding of life in the universe”

Doctor. Nico Madhusudan

The group of planets identified by Cambridge scientists as Hazen will be examined in more detail in the future using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). All these celestial bodies are located in the solar system of the so-called “red dwarf” and are not far from astronomical conditions at 35 to 150 light years.

This also includes K2-18b. The researchers also want to examine it more closely with a telescope. Dr. says. Madhusudan. (Jean Wendt)

It could be a dangerous asteroid on Earth. According to NASA, the potential for an impact is greater than previously thought.

Stan Shaw

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