Alien life may only be found on worlds possessing oceans of water, a new computer study concludes. These large bodies of water could also provide astronomers with a way to find living worlds beyond our solar system.
The virtual models showed how large oceans moderate global temperatures and conditions. On Earth, seasons would come on much faster, with greater extremes of temperatures, without its large quantity of water. Life is more likely to exist on similar planets, the models showed.
Astronomers are trying to find as many planets as they can within the "habitable zone" around other stars. However, the simulations showed that without large bodies of water, life on another world would likely be quickly wiped out by extreme temperatures.
Mars is within the habitable zone around our sun. However, without oceans to moderate temperatures, conditions on Mars can vary by as much as 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We found that heat transported by oceans would have a major impact on the temperature distribution across a planet, and would potentially allow a greater area of a planet to be habitable," David Stevens from the University of East Anglia (UEA) said.
The computer model studied a hypothetical planet much like Earth, widely covered in oceans of liquid water. Researchers studied how various rotational rates affected transport of heat around the virtual world.
"We know that many planets are completely uninhabitable because they are either too close or too far from their sun... But until now, most habitability models have neglected the impact of oceans on climate," Stevens stated in a press release.
The model revealed that the presence of large bodies of water allow a greater portion of a world's surface to have temperature conditions. It also suggested that looking for such oceans could be a way of finding worlds with alien life.
The exoplanet 51 Pegasi b was the first planetary body ever discovered outside the solar system, in 1992. Astronomers have discovered a total of 1,739 planets beyond the solar system since that time, some confirmed and others suspected.
"This new model will help us to understand what the climates of other planets might be like with more accurate detail than ever before," Stevens stated.
The study was sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a funding program for research and training in engineering and physical sciences, managed by the UK government.
Study of the role of alien oceans in the development of life on other worlds was detailed in the journal Astrobiology.