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Water-Rich Planets Commonly Found Outside The Solar System, Study Reveals

The researchers believe that these water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system

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Water-rich planets outside our solar system common: Study. Pixabay
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Water is likely to be a major component of those exoplanets which are between two to four times the size of Earth, suggests new research that may have implications for the search of life in our solar system.

Water has been implied previously on individual exoplanets, but this work, presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston, Massachusetts, concludes that water-rich planets outside our solar system are common.

The new research, based on data from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission, indicates that many of the known planets may contain as much as 50 per cent water, which is much more than the Earth’s 0.02 per cent (by weight) water content.

“It was a huge surprise to realise that there must be so many water-worlds,” said lead researcher Li Zeng of Harvard University.

Scientists have found that many of the 4,000 confirmed or candidate exoplanets discovered so far fall into two size categories — those with the planetary radius averaging around 1.5 times that of the Earth, and those averaging around 2.5 times the radius of the Earth.

Solar system
Solar system. Pixabay

For this study, the scientists developed a model for internal structures of the exoplanets after analysing the exoplanets with mass measurements and recent radius measurements from the Gaia satellite.

“We have looked at how mass relates to radius, and developed a model which might explain the relationship”, said Li Zeng.

“The model indicates that those exoplanets which have a radius of around x1.5 Earth radius tend to be rocky planets (of typically x5 the mass of the Earth), while those with a radius of x2.5 Earth radius (with a mass around x10 that of the Earth) are probably water worlds,” he added.

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“Our data indicate that about 35 per cent of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich,” he said, adding that surface of these exoplanets may be shrouded in a water-vapour-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath.

The researchers believe that these water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system. (IANS)

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Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Red dwarfs -- especially young red dwarfs -- are active stars, producing flares blast out energy

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NASA to send tissue chips to space to test human health, genetic changes. Flcikr

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that violent outbursts, or superflares, from red dwarf stars could affect the habitability of any planets orbiting it.

Young low-mass stars flare much more frequently and more energetically than old stars and middle-age stars like our Sun, the findings of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal showed.

The findings are based on observations of the flare frequency of 12 red dwarfs.

Hubble is observing such stars through a large programme called HAZMAT — Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

“M dwarf” is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star — the smallest, most abundant and longest-living type of star in our galaxy.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
Hubble Telescope. Flickr

The HAZMAT programme is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages — young, intermediate, and old.

“The goal of the HAZMAT programme is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars,” explained the programme’s principal investigator, Evgenya Shkolnik from Arizona State University.

“These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres,” Shkolnik added.

Stellar flares from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars.

Red dwarf  planet
Artist’s view of planets transiting red dwarf star in TRAPPIST-1 system. Flickr

Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares.

The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere.

When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed — just about 40 million years old — are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older.

This younger age is when terrestrial planets are forming around their stars.

Red dwarf
This illustration shows a red dwarf star orbited by a hypothetical exoplanet. NASA

About three-quarters of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy’s “habitable-zone” planets — planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface — orbit red dwarfs.

In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

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However, red dwarfs — especially young red dwarfs — are active stars, producing flares that could blast out so much energy that it disrupts and possibly strips off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets. (IANS)