GS Paper - 3 (Science and Technology)

Astronomers have identified a new class of habitable planets, which could greatly accelerate the search for life outside our Solar System. Dubbed as 'Hycean' -- hot, ocean-covered planets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres, the new classes of exoplanets are more numerous and observable than Earth-like planets, and can support life, said astronomers from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

What

  1. Hycean planets open a whole new avenue in our search for life elsewhere, said Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, who led the research.
  2. Hycean planets can be up to 2.6 times larger than Earth and have atmospheric temperatures up to nearly 200 degrees Celsius, but their oceanic conditions could be similar to those conducive for microbial life in Earth's oceans.
  3. Such planets also include tidally locked 'dark' Hycean worlds that may have habitable conditions only on their permanent night sides, and 'cold' Hycean worlds that receive little radiation from their stars.
  4. Planets of this size dominate the known exoplanet population, although they have not been studied in nearly as much detail as super-Earths.
  5. Hycean worlds are likely quite common, meaning that the most promising places to look for life elsewhere in the Galaxy may have been hiding in plain sight.
  6. However, size alone is not enough to confirm whether a planet is Hycean: other aspects such as mass, temperature, and atmospheric properties are required for confirmation, the researchers said.