Scientists have a new tool to estimate how much water might be hidden beneath the planet’s surface

Scientists have a new tool to estimate how much water might be hidden beneath the planet's surface

water worlds. credit: NASA

In their search for life elsewhere in the universe, scientists have traditionally looked for planets with liquid water on their surfaces. But instead of flowing as oceans and rivers, much of the planet’s water could be locked up in rocks deep in its interior.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge now have a way to estimate the amount of water rocky planet It can be stored in its underground reservoirs. It is believed that this water, locked in the structure of minerals in its depths, may help a planet recover from its first fiery rebirth.

Researchers have developed a model that can predict the percentage of water-rich minerals within a planet. These minerals act like sponges, absorbing water that can later return to the surface and replenish the oceans. Their findings can help us understand how to do this planets They can become habitable after extreme heat and radiation during their early years.

M-type planets. red dwarf starsIt – the most common star in the galaxy – is believed to be one of the best places to look for it Alien life. But these stars have particularly stormy teenage years — firing intense radiation bursts that blow up nearby planets and extinguish them. Surface of the water.

Our sun’s adolescence was relatively short, but red dwarf stars spend more time in this turbulent transition period. As a result, the planets under their wings suffer from a runaway greenhouse effect Where their climate is thrown into chaos.

“We wanted to investigate whether, after such a turbulent upbringing, these planets are able to rehabilitate themselves and continue to host surface water,” said the study’s lead author, Claire Gimond, PhD. Student in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge.

New research published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, shows that internal water could be a viable way to replenish liquid surface water once the planet’s host star matures and quenches. This water was likely generated by volcanoes and gradually released as vapor into the atmosphere, along with other life-giving elements.

Their new model allows them to calculate a planet’s internal water capacity based on its size and the chemistry of its host star. The model gives us the highest rate about how much water a planet can hold at depth, based on these minerals and their ability to bring water into their structure,” said Gimond.

The researchers found that the size of the planet plays a major role in determining how much water it can hold. That’s because the size of the planet determines the percentage of water-bearing minerals it’s made of.

Most of the planet’s internal water is contained within a rocky layer known as the upper mantle– which is located directly under the cortex. Here, the pressure and temperature conditions are just right to form blue-green minerals called wadsleyite and ringwoodite that can absorb water. This rock layer is also accessible to volcanoes, which can return water to the surface through volcanic eruptions.

The new research shows that larger planets — two to three times more massive than Earth — typically have a drier, rocky mantle because the water-rich upper mantle makes up a smaller proportion of their total mass.

The findings could provide scientists with guidance to aid their search for exoplanets that might host life, said Oliver Shortttle, who is jointly associated with Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and the Institute of Astronomy. “When we’re looking for planets that can hold water better, you probably don’t want one that’s much bigger or much smaller than Earth.”

The results can also add to our understanding of how planets, including those closer to home like Venus, can transition from the arid landscapes of hell to the blue marble. Temperatures on the surface of Venus, which has a similar size and larger composition to Earth, hover around 450aC and its atmosphere is heavy with carbon dioxide and nitrogen. It remains an open question whether Venus hosted liquid water on its surface 4 billion years ago.

“If that’s the case, then Venus must have found a way to cool itself and reclaim surface water after being born around the fiery Sun. It could have tapped its inner water in order to do that,” Shorttel said.

more information:
Claire Marie Gimond et al., Frontiers in the Mantle Mineralogy of Rocky Planet Water Reservoirs, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2023). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad148

Introduction of
Cambridge University

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