35% of all known exoplanets are 'water worlds', researchers find

The coming few years should really tell us a lot more about them.

In this NASA digital illustration handout released on February 22, 2017, an artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius.(P
In this NASA digital illustration handout released on February 22, 2017, an artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius.(P

Do atmospheres of steam, with oceans of liquid water, and ice-encrusted rocks sound like the kind of planet you’d expect anywhere but here? 


Turns out, after scientists studied 4,000 known exoplanets (a planet surrounding a star outside of our solar system), fully one-third of them—or 1,400 of those 4,000—were found to be water-rich worlds. In some cases, as much as 50% of the weight of the planets is water. (By comparison, the Earth is only 0.02 per cent water weight.)

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


A hand out image made available by the European Southern Observatory on August 24 2016, shows an artist's impression of a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. (Photo credit M. KORNMESSER/AFP/Getty Images)

Water of some kind means they could have life on them ... but perhaps not anything we've conceived of before. 

"This is water, but not as commonly found here on Earth," said Li Zeng. "Their surface temperature is expected to be in the 200 to 500 degree Celsius range. Their surface may be shrouded in a water-vapor-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath.
Li Zeng continued, "Our data indicate that about 35% of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich. 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."

Interestingly, all of the planets studied ended up being 1.5 to 2.5 times the size of Earth. And there’s a correlation between the sizes; using their models, it turns out that planets 1.5 times the size of the Earth are very likely to be rocky, and 2.5 times our size, water worlds. 

In this NASA digital illustration handout released on February 22, 2017, an artist's concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets' diameters, masses and distances from the host star. (Photo digital Illustration by NASA/NASA via Getty Images)

The paper and research, presented at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston this week, confirms what has long been suspected: We’re not the only water-rich world out there. 

Scientists used the Kepler Space Telescope, specifically designed to hunt for exoplanets, and the Gaia mission to find these planets, but two new tools will soon be available to dig much deeper. 

Li Zeng continued. "The newly-launched TESS mission will find many more of them, with the help of ground-based spectroscopic follow-up. The next generation space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will hopefully characterize the atmosphere of some of them. This is an exciting time for those interested in these remote worlds."

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) was launched in April, 2018, and the James Webb Space Telescope is due to be launched in 2021.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Do you worry too much? Stoicism can help

How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.

Stoicism can help overcome anxiety

Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY via Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
  • It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
  • By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Keep reading Show less

Study: People will donate more to charity if they think something’s in it for them

A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.

How to get people to want to give you money, literal balls of cash not gaurenteed.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Personal Growth
  • A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
  • Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
  • The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

160-million-year-old ‘Monkeydactyl’ was the first animal to develop opposable thumbs

The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.

Quantcast