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Studying Planetary Magnetosphere May Hold Clue To Earth-Like Life On Exoplanets

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Studying the magnetosphere on another planet may hold clues in determining whether it can support life or not, a scientist in London suggests.

On Earth, life is protected, sustained and developed under the planet's magnetosphere – a space controlled by the planet's magnetic field. Its shape is the direct result of being blasted by solar wind, high-energy particles released by the sun out into space.

The potential clues were discovered in a previous research that revealed that solar storms trigger intense "northern lights" in Jupiter. These northern lights were said to be eight times more brilliant and hundreds of times more powerful than the aurora borealis on our planet.

Study author William Dunn of University College London said that Earth's magnetosphere is important because it covers the planet's atmosphere from solar disturbances and solar wind.

Planets like Venus and Mars do not have magnetospheres, although the red planet may have had it once, he said.

As a result, solar wind keeps on sweeping away these two planets' atmospheres, stripping away hydrogen – the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen is also quite a light element prone to being blown away.

"This removal of hydrogen reduces the amount of water available," explained Dunn.

Scientists believe that Mars once had enormous water oceans, which could have been larger than the Atlantic.

Maps of water in the planet's atmosphere reveal that as much as one-fifth of the planet could have been covered by a giant body of water, but now, it is gone.

Incidentally, another study indicated that the formation of the mineral gypsum on Mars may provide insight into the presence of water on the red planet.

Meanwhile, Dunn said the lack of magnetosphere and the link to surface water leads to a diminished possibility of planet habitability by multi-cellular organisms.

With that, he said as scientists begin to explore the universe and wonder about the existence of life on other planets, they will consider planets and regions that possess magnetospheres since they are more likely to support life.

NASA's Juno spacecraft will help the ongoing research as it is nearing Jupiter for the beginning of its mission. Juno will study the gas giant's relationship with the sun and the solar wind by looking into its magnetosphere, magnetic field and aurora.

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