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A Big Step in Search for Alien Life: Hycean Planets May Surprise Us


Published on: August 26, 2021,

A new class of exoplanet which could support life has been identified by astronomers. In this search astronomers have been looking for planets like earth which have similar size, mass, temperature. But astronomers from University of Cambridge believe there are promising possibilities. Researchers have identified new class of habitable planets called ‘ Hycean.’ They have hot oceans covered planets with hydrogen rich atmosphere. Finding life outside solar system may be two or three years away.


Many of those planes are bigger and hotter than Earth. As they have large oceans they have possibility to support life. So far thousands of planets outside solar system have been discovered so far since the discovery of exoplanet. As they are between size of Earth and Neptune they are also referred as ‘ super –Earths’ or ‘mini- Neptunes.’ Most mini Neptune are over 1.6 times size of earth.


As per recent study of mini – Neptune the Madhusudhan’s team has found in certain conditions these planets can sustain life. After the result an insight into full range of planetary conditions was observed. A new class of planets Hycean Planets with oceans beneath hydrogen rich atmosphere nearly 200 Celsius has been found and they may be habitable only on permanent night sides. Also there were cold Hycean world that receive little radiation from their stars. Thus Hycean world are quite common and they are promising places to look for life elsewhere in the Galaxy.


Hycean planets cannot be only determined by size. It’s other physical properties like mass, temperature and atmospheric properties are required to confirm. To determine the habitable confirmations the first thing needed to determine is whether planet lies in habitable zone of its star.  Astronomers look for biosignatures such as oxygen, methane which indicate the possibility of life.


“Essentially we’ve been looking for molecular signatures and we have been focusing planets similar to earth which is a reasonable place to start.” Said Madhusudhan.  “There can be habitable planets different from earth,” said co-author Anjali Piette also from Cambridge. Madhusudhan and his team found a number of trace terrestrial biomarkers expected to be present in Hycean atmosphere.


The Cambridge team identified a sizeable sample of potential Hycean worlds which are prime candidates for detailed study of next generation telescope. These planets orbit red dwarf stars 35-150 light year away and can be promising candidate K2-18b lead to detection of biosignature molecules. We need to be open about what we expect to find and its form as nature can makes us wonder in unimaginable ways.


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