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Can astronomers detect exoplanet oceans ?

Posted on Wednesday, 18 July, 2012 | Comment icon 8 comments | News tip by: Waspie_Dwarf

Image credit: NASA

As the hunt for habitable planets intensifies astronomers are turning their attention to alien oceans.

With a surface ocean being such a strong indicator of a habitable planet, a method with which to detect such an ocean on a planet orbiting another star would seem to be vital in determining if it might be a suitable place to find life. One method might be to look for specular reflection, the 'glint' on the water like we see on Earth when the Sun reflects off of the surface. The planet's reflectivity ( or 'albedo' ) could then be measured to determine if a liquid ocean is likely to be present there.

"Astronomers are keen to figure out how to detect oceans on exoplanets, because biologists assure us that liquid water is necessary for life as we know it," said team leader Nicolas Cowan. "The challenge is that exoplanets are very far away, so at best they appear as Carl Sagan's proverbial ‘pale blue dot’."

"Detecting water on the surface of exoplanets is becoming a high priority for researchers, as surface water is considered a requirement for habitability."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Super-Fly on 15 July, 2012, 23:22
Interesting, didnt they trial somesort of thing like this with the transit of venus, or am i completely wrong? Nice post OP!
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 15 July, 2012, 23:42
Venus is just about the last planet you would use to help in the search for oceans. With a surface temperature of 480[sup]o[/sup]C, there's not a lot of liquid water there. What astronomers were interested in with the transit of Venus was the planet's atmosphere. The hope is that the observations made will be able to help detect atmospheres on exoplanets when they transit their star.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Super-Fly on 15 July, 2012, 23:44
Ah right, my mistake, i knew they were interested in for looking for something, atmosphere. Thanks for replying!
Comment icon #4 Posted by marcos anthony toledo on 18 July, 2012, 11:42
I would wait for a orbital observatory in deep space to search for oceans on exoplanets patance will win out in the end.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Sundew on 18 July, 2012, 17:00
While it would be scientifically interesting to find water or even oceans on other worlds, it is all rather academic to exploration/colonization. If a space vehicle cannot breach the speed of light barrier (and all thoughts are to how to do that are presently theoretical, certainly not practical) then these "water worlds" will always be tantalizingly out of reach. We are talking dozens or hundreds of light years distance, that is, if you COULD make a ship able to reach the speed of light, it would STILL take one or multiple generations of astronauts to reach these worlds. The effects... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by Rhino666 on 18 July, 2012, 18:48
Why does it matter. We're not going there, it's too far.
Comment icon #7 Posted by csspwns on 19 July, 2012, 1:08
yea we should focus on mars a bit moreits closer and there is a big chance of water there
Comment icon #8 Posted by St. Jimmy on 19 July, 2012, 20:08
This is interesting. A picture of Mars how it may have looked a billion years ago. By the way, the chance of finding a liquid form of water isn't that big because of current conditions on the planet surface. But in the atmosphere is still small amount of water vapor.

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