Scientists Discover A New Class of Ocean-Covered Planets That May Soon Yield Signs of Life

These new ocean-covered planets that are much bigger and hotter than Earth.

Amanda Smith/University Of Cambridge

Scientists recently discovered a new class of exoplanets with large oceans and hydrogen-abundant atmospheres, named “Hycean” planets, that may support life outside Earth’s solar system, according to a new study published on Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the study suggests that focusing on Hycean planets — many of which are up to 2.6x larger than the planet we call home and touch temperatures ranging in the 200 degrees Celsius — could accelerate missions to discover extraterrestrial life.

“Essentially, when we’ve been looking for these various molecular signatures, we have been focusing on planets similar to Earth, which is a reasonable place to start,” said Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who led the research, in a statement. “But we think Hycean planets offer a better chance of finding several trace biosignatures.”

Hyceans in addition feature tidally locked “dark” worlds that may host habitable conditions on their permanent night side, as well as “cold” worlds that receive a small amount of radiation from their host stars. Hycean planets are likely common, according to the study, though they have not been studied nearly as closely as other planets.

“A biosignature detection would transform our understanding of life in the universe,” Madhusudhan continued. “We need to be open about where we expect to find life and what form that life could take, as nature continues to surprise us in often unimaginable ways.”

Hycean planets could get a better view using a next-generation telescope, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch later this year. You can read the tweet below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Lastly, for more tech related news, NASA Planning First-Ever Trip to the Dark Side of the Moon.