Astronomers are always on the lookout for planets outside our solar system that might harbor life. Joining the search for extraterrestrial life or other mysteries about the universe may seem like a relatively mundane pursuit. Still, the results could identify a new planet suitable for human life or even prove or disprove the existence of aliens. It is an ambitious goal, but one that’s well within reach through astronomy.
While astronomers looked mostly for planets resembling ours, it appears that life could also be supported by planets that are very different from Earth. A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge has now identified Hycean planets, a new class of exoplanets.
According to astronomers, these planets could support life. However, they are not similar at all to our planet. These exoplanets are covered in oceans, and researchers believe they could discover life biosignatures beyond our Solar System in less than three years. “It’s exciting that habitable conditions could exist on planets so different from Earth,” said co-author Anjali Piette.
Hycean planets are bigger than Earth, and the temperatures reach 200 Celsius degrees. However, given their oceans, microbial life could exist on these planets. In order to determine whether life would be possible on these planets, astronomers search for biosignatures. “Essentially, when we’ve been looking for these various molecular signatures, we have been focusing on planets similar to Earth, which is a reasonable place to start,” explained Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan
Biomarkers such as ozone, oxygen, or even methyl chloride can help researchers determine whether a planet could support life. The Hycean planets will be tested for biomarkers soon in the future with the help of spectroscopic observations. “A biosignature detection would transform our understanding of life in the universe. We need to be open about where we expect to find life and what form that life could take, as nature continues to surprise us in often unimaginable ways,” concluded Madhusudhan.