If one day you want to hear the news that scientists have discovered a planet with extraterrestrial life, the scientists who work with the Kepler Space Telescope have very good news for you. In a presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston, Harvard researchers revealed that the data from the Kepler telescope suggests that water-covered planets actually occur much more frequently than you might think.
Principal investigator Dr. Li Zeng, who has characterized the discovery as a "big surprise," says that the data that Kepler has collected about thousands of potential extraterrestrial worlds point to many of those who have water on their surface, and some have oceans so deeply they have the earth ashamed.
"We looked at how mass relates to radius and developed a model that could explain the relationship," Zeng explains. The resulting data, when applied to the information scientists already have about the exoplanets, revealed that worlds of about one and a half times the size of the earth are likely to be rocky and those of about two and a half times the size of the earth is probably covered with water.
But before you dream of a planet covered with a vast, comfortable ocean, Zeng warns that many of the planets that support large amounts of water can still be hostile.
"Their surface temperature is expected to be in the range of 200 to 500 degrees Celsius," Zeng commented. "Their surface can be shrouded in an atmosphere dominated by water vapor, with a liquid layer of water underneath.When we go deeper, you would expect this water to transform into high-pressure ice before we reach the solid rocky core.The beauty of the model is that it explains how composition relates to the known facts about these planets ".
Humanity is still largely in the dark about which conditions are optimal for life to form. We to think we know that life needs water to take root, and water-covered planets are of course a great place to live if that is indeed the case. Yet we will not know until we have found organisms on a different planet than ours.