A third of planets outside of our solar system could potentially host alien life, according to researchers from Harvard University.

Scientists say that any ‘exoplanet’ that is two to four times the size of Earth is likely to contain water and essential elements that could host alien life.

Analysis of data from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission indicates half their weight may be water – either flowing or frozen.

In comparison, the amount of water on Earth makes up just 0.02 per cent of its complete mass.
Lead researcher Dr Li Zeng, of Harvard University in the United States, said: “It was a huge surprise to realise that there must be so many water-worlds.”

Presenting the findings at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston, he explained: “This is water, but not as commonly found here on Earth. Their surface temperature is expected to be in the 200 to 500 degree Celsius range.

“Their surface may be shrouded in a water-vapour-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath. Moving deeper, one would expect to find this water transforms into high-pressure ices before we reaching the solid rocky core. The beauty of the model is that it explains just how composition relates to the known facts about these planets.”

The 1992 discovery of exoplanets orbiting other stars has sparked interest in understanding the composition of these planets to determine, among other goals, whether they are suitable for the development of life.

In June 2013, scientists found powerful evidence that water good enough to drink once flowed on Mars. In September of the same year, soil analysis revealed that fine materials on the surface of the planet contain two per cent water by weight.

Last year, scientists provided the best estimates for water on Mars, claiming it once had more liquid H2O than the Arctic Ocean – and the planet kept these oceans for more than 1.5 billion years. The findings suggest there was ample time and water for life on Mars to thrive, but over the last 3.7 billion years the red planet has lost 87 per cent of its water – leaving it barren and dry.

However, many of these theories are based upon the assumption that an alien lifeform would also need water and oxygen to survive, in the same way as human beings do. In that sense are current knowledge of life on other planets and solar systems is based predominantly on our perception and knowledge of life on earth.


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