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Scientists find water planet with a boiling ocean in remarkable discovery

Traces of methane and carbon dioxide found in the planet's atmosphere could mean that there is a possibility of life.

Scientists find water planet with a boiling ocean in remarkable discovery
Cover Image Source: Photo digital Illustration by NASA/NASA via Getty Images) - Representative Image

The idea that there could be water and maybe even life on some other planet besides Earth is absolutely mind-blowing. So, you can imagine how shocked everyone was when astronomers at the University of Cambridge discovered an exoplanet that's basically all about water. But it's not the kind of beach paradise you might think; instead, it's this huge, dark ball steaming with boiling. under some intense heat and pressure. The discovery was carried out with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) , as reported in a paper published in the "Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters." This planet is an exoplanet named TOI-270 d, which has a mass that totals 4.78 Earths.

Representative Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by NASA/WireImage
Representative Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by NASA/WireImage


The observations detected carbon disulfide in the planet’s atmosphere. However, there was no sign of another biosignature molecule, dimethyl sulfide (DMS). In 2019, this planet was observed with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), whose findings suggest a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. The latest observations by NASA’s JWST suggested water, methane and carbon dioxide are in the atmosphere of the exoplanet. This chemical blend signifies the existence of a water world where the entire planet is enveloped in a giant ocean. However, this ocean doesn’t seem too welcoming yet for humans. “The ocean could be upwards of 100 degrees Celsius or more,” said Professor Nikku Madhusudhan, who led the analysis, as reported by The Guardian. “At high atmospheric pressure, an ocean this hot could still be liquid, but it’s not clear if it would be habitable," he added.


Despite finding the evidence of life’s building blocks, the scientists couldn’t find any traces of ammonia, which basic chemistry predicts should occur naturally in a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. But ammonia is highly soluble in water and so would be depleted in the atmosphere if there were an ocean down below. “One interpretation is that this is a so-called ‘hycean’ world – with a water ocean under a hydrogen-rich atmosphere,” said Madhusudhan. A hycean planet, as the professor said, is the portmanteau of hydrogen and ocean; it is a particular type of exoplanet that features a liquid water ocean under a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. In addition to the absence of ammonia, the researchers also noted the bizarre position of this planet. One side of this planet permanently faces its star and the other is bathed in eternal darkness, creating an extreme temperature contrast. “The ocean would be extremely hot on the dayside. The night side could potentially host habitable conditions,” said Madhusudhan. But with steam soaring off the ocean and extremity of pressure a hundred times stronger than the Earth’s atmospheric pressure, the scenario becomes tricky.

Representative Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by © CORBIS-Corbis via Getty Images
Representative Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by © CORBIS-Corbis via Getty Images


While the presence of this water world could lead to evidence of extraterrestrial life, the professor cautioned not to take these findings as the ultimate proof. “We need to be extremely careful about how we communicate findings on this kind of object,” he said. “It’s easy for the public to jump on to the idea that we’re finding life already.” Adding to the professor’s comment, several debates arose from a Canadian team's additional observations of the same exoplanet, challenging the proposed scenario. They argue that the planet's temperature might be too high for liquid water to exist, estimating it could reach a staggering 4,000 degrees Celsius. 

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