The scientific community has discovered a new planet. It is located 245 light-years away from Earth and has been named TOI-733b. Its size is slightly less than twice the radius of Earth. It has a unique feature: its atmosphere.
For now, experts have presented two possibilities. The first is that it may have lost its atmosphere layer. The second is that it could be a “highly irradiated oceanic world.”
To give an idea, it is slightly lower than Earth’s density, which is 5.51 grams per cubic centimeter, but higher than that of our neighbor Mars.
Another point mentioned in the Astronomy & Astrophysics article is that this planet orbits a star slightly smaller than the Sun and completes its orbit in a total of 4.9 days.
It is this proximity to the star that serves as an explanation for the first of the two scenarios that scientists have proposed regarding its atmosphere.
Currently, exoplanet TOI-733b is a dry rock devoid of a gaseous layer. One of the reasons scientists find to explain this situation is that, being a body very close to its Sun, the atmosphere would eventually evaporate.
But this is not the only hypothesis they consider. They also believe that something else could be happening: it could be an oceanic planet.
Another significant discovery highlighted by the publication of this article is the similarity between this planet, as well as others with similar characteristics, and Neptune, although on a smaller scale. These types of bodies share a common trait, which is their shrinking process due to the loss of atmosphere.
And while this latest discovery seems to support this theory, it is still unknown who or what is responsible for this phenomenon: whether it is the star to which these planets are closest or the heat they themselves emit.
For centuries, the existence of extraterrestrial life has ignited our collective curiosity and drive for exploration. Today, we’re focusing that curiosity on a very specific type of celestial body: exoplanets and moons that might host oceans.
Scientists believe that these water-bearing worlds could potentially harbor life, making them a focal point in our search for extraterrestrial organisms. Below is an overview of these intriguing celestial bodies and discusses the ongoing efforts to study and conserve them.
The discovery of exoplanets — planets orbiting stars outside our solar system — has been a game-changer in our quest for alien life. A few of these new planets, thanks to their favorable conditions, show potential for hosting oceans.
The closest known exoplanet to our solar system, Proxima Centauri b, orbits in the habitable zone of its host star. The planet’s mass suggests a rocky composition, and the potential existence of liquid water on its surface remains a topic of scientific investigation.
The seven Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, located about 40 light-years away, also spark interest. Three of these planets — TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g — reside in the system’s habitable zone. Models suggest they could support liquid water, under suitable atmospheric conditions.
As the first known exoplanet residing in the habitable zone of a sun-like star, Kepler-22b might hold liquid water. Scientists, however, still need to determine the composition of this super-Earth-sized planet.
In our own solar system, several moons show signs of harboring subsurface oceans, fueling the possibility of life.
This moon of Jupiter, warmed by the tidal effects of Jupiter’s gravity, likely contains a subsurface ocean twice the volume of all Earth’s oceans combined. Its icy surface hints at the existence of this underlying saltwater ocean.
Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus hosts a subsurface ocean beneath its southern pole. Scientists believe the plumes of water vapor erupting from its surface are direct evidence of this hidden ocean.
Another of Saturn’s moons, Titan, stands as the only known moon with a substantial atmosphere. Radar and infrared observations indicate the presence of lakes filled with hydrocarbons—although not water, this still counts as a form of liquid surface reservoir.
While we still have much to learn about these distant worlds and new planets, it’s critical to adopt a forward-thinking perspective on their conservation. The introduction of Earth-originating microbes, intentional or not, could have severe implications for potential life forms and could compromise scientific investigations.
Efforts to prevent biological contamination, known as planetary protection, are at the forefront. NASA and other international space agencies adhere to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which mandates avoiding harmful contamination of celestial bodies.
The guidelines put forth by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) serve to enforce this treaty, demanding rigorous cleaning protocols for spacecraft.
With current technology, detailed observation and research into these potential ocean worlds remain limited. The planned missions, like NASA’s Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), will offer more insights into these worlds and help refine our planetary protection measures.
The discovery of exoplanets and moons with potential oceans marks a significant stride in our quest for extraterrestrial life. While we continue to explore these fascinating worlds, we must also prioritize their conservation to preserve their integrity for future generations. The cosmic ocean awaits us, promising a treasure trove of discoveries and potential encounters with life forms beyond our wildest imaginings.