Ideal habitable world would be mostly ocean, model suggests

By Brooks Hays  |  April 20, 2017 at 10:56 AM
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April 20 (UPI) -- An exoplanet made up of mostly oceans would offer astronomers the greatest chance of finding alien life, according to a new model developed by Fergus Simpson.

Simpson, a researcher at the University of Barcelona's Institute of Cosmos Sciences, used Bayesian probability to build a statistical model to predict the most likely composition of a habitable exoplanet.

The model suggests Earth's unique balance of land and water is especially unique. Scientists still aren't sure why or how planet Earth managed to strike such a perfect balance.

According to the model, such balance is unlikely to be found elsewhere. Instead, habitable worlds are most likely to feature mostly oceans.

Simpson's model considers the role of the deep water cycle, as well as erosion and deposition systems, in creating the unique land-water balance found on Earth. His research suggests planets with smaller oceans are at risk of becoming dominated by deserts.

Simpson believes scientists' understanding of habitable world's is skewed by what's called the "anthropic principle," which is the idea that the very existence of sentient life biases human understanding of the universe.

Our very existence, in other words, seems inevitable, even if statistics suggests otherwise. Put another way: Human observations of the universe can only manifest on planets where humans can live.

"Our understanding of the development of life may be far from complete, but it is not so dire that we must adhere to the conventional approximation that all habitable planets have an equal chance of hosting intelligent life," Simpson said in a news release.

Simpson detailed his model and its implications in the latest issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In previous work, Simpson has suggested most habitable worlds are smaller than Earth and that sentient aliens are likely to be significantly larger than humans.

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