Floating exoplanets with underground oceans could support life

Dr Manasvi Lingam of the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology and Professor Avi Loeb of Harvard University studied how life could survive on floating or rogue planets – mass interstellar objects. planetary without a host planetary system – via oceans strewn under a thick layer of ice.

Artist’s impression of a free-floating exoplanet. Image credit: Sci-News.com.

The cold of interstellar space would be too great for the oceans to remain entirely liquid, but Dr. Lingam and Professor Loeb believe that any putative biosphere would be protected from the cold via the ice sheet, and the planet’s core would heat the planet. inside .

Under the ice would potentially exist Earth-like oceans that could harbor life.

The possibilities of rogue planets making life easier are of great interest to the authors as more and more planets are discovered.

“For every solar system discovered, each of which contains a handful of terrestrial planets, there are approximately 30 to 40 rogue planets traveling the cold expanses of interstellar space,” Dr. Lingam said.

“The closest exoplanet to Earth should therefore be one of those rogue planets.”

“We normally think of star-related planets, such as Mars, that could support life, but in reality these types of life-supporting planets might just be floating in the vast void of space with rich biospheres. “

The next steps in the research are to do experiments on Earth to determine under what extreme conditions life could survive, such as low temperatures or low pressure.

One way to do this is to analyze microbes that wouldn’t need sunlight, building on previous research that has conclusively shown that there are more microbes that don’t need sunlight. sunlight than those who need it.

Another direction that deserves future research is to examine free-floating interstellar objects as they enter our solar system and to study the conditions on the planet to see if that would make life easier.

“Technology would only have to progress in modest ways to make it easier to travel to these planets – if they are in our solar system -” said Dr Lingam.

“You might be able to get to a rogue planet in a few decades, and, rather than looking for other planets around other stars, this might be the best chance to study those planets.”

“With a combination of gravitational aids and the right propulsion systems, you could reach the rogue planet in about 20 years.”

“Once you have a probe on the surface, you can send the data back and it would probably take a few months to figure out what it looks like on the surface. “

The team’s article was published in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

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Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb. 2019. Underground exolife. International Journal of Astrobiology 18 (2): 112-141; doi: 10.1017 / S1473550418000083

This article is based on text provided by the Florida Institute of Technology.

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