If you hope to one day wake up to the news that scientists have discovered a planet with alien life, the scientists working with the Kepler space telescope have some very good news for you. In a presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston, researchers from Harvard revealed that the data from the Kepler telescope suggests that water-covered planets are actually a lot more common than you might think.
Lead researcher Dr. Li Zeng, who characterized the discovery as a “huge surprise,” says that the data that Kepler has gathered about thousands of potential alien worlds points to many of them having water on their surface, and some may have oceans so deep they put Earth to shame.
“We have looked at how mass relates to radius, and developed a model which might explain the relationship” Zeng explained. The resulting data, when applied to the information that scientists already have about the exoplanets, revealed that worlds around one-and-a-half times the size of Earth are likely rocky, and those which are around two-and-a-half times the size of Earth are probably covered in water.
But before you go dreaming of a planet covered in a vast, comfortable ocean, Zeng warns that many of the planets that support large quantities of water may still be hostile.
“Their surface temperature is expected to be in the 200 to 500 degree Celsius range,” Zeng noted. “Their surface may be shrouded in a water-vapor-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath. Moving deeper, one would expect to find this water transforms into high-pressure ices before we reaching the solid rocky core. The beauty of the model is that it explains just how composition relates to the known facts about these planets”.
Humanity is still largely in the dark as to what conditions are optimal for life to form. We think we know that life needs water to take root, and water-covered planets are obviously a great place for life to exist if that is indeed the case. Still, we won’t know until we actually find organisms on a planet other than our own.