Scientists now believe that there are 100 times as many habitable worlds in our galaxy than previously thought.
For years, the hunt for habitable extrasolar worlds has been synonymous with the hunt for water – a substance that is inexorably connected with the development and survival of life as we know it.
Now it seems as though worlds with subsurface oceans (like those found on Europa and Enceladus) may be significantly more commonplace than scientists had previously believed.
The key, according to new results presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Lyon, France this week, is that such worlds are now thought to exist around red dwarf stars – small, cool stars that are particularly abundant throughout the galaxy.
This is made possible by geothermal heat melting the ice on rocky terrestrial planets orbiting them.
“Most Earth-like exoplanets that we have found today orbit around M dwarfs,” planetary scientist Lujendra Ojha told Motherboard.
“Given that basal melting was something that likely happened and, depending on who you talk to, could have been one of the main ways of generating liquid water on our solar system’s planets billions of years ago, we wanted to ascertain what would be required for basal melting, and if this could happen on other planetary bodies.”
If these findings are correct, then it could mean that there are far more potentially habitable environments out there than anyone thought possible.