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Planets With Oceans Likely Common in Galaxy

enceladus plumes

This illustration shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


It is likely that planets with large oceans in the galaxy are more common than thought, according to a paper on which PSI’s Amy Mlinar is a co-author. And these “ocean worlds” are believed to have abundant liquid water in their interiors, as well as organic molecules and tidal heating – the basic ingredients for life. The study, “Forecasting Rates of Volcanic Activity on Terrestrial Exoplanets and Implications for Cryovolcanic Activity on Extrasolar Ocean Worlds,” appears in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Plumes of water erupt from Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, showing they have subsurface oceans and energy to drive the plumes, two required ingredients for habitability for life.

Mathematical analysis of 53 exoplanets with sizes most similar to Earth, though they could have up to eight times more mass, found that more than 25 percent of the exoplanets studied could be ocean worlds, with a strong possibility they could have subsurface oceans. Many of these planets could be releasing more energy than Europa and Enceladus. 

While the assumptions that go into these mathematical models are educated guesses, they can help scientists narrow the list of promising exoplanets to search for conditions favorable to life so that NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope other future missions can follow up.

July 19, 2020
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