16 July 2008

Hot super-Earths could support life, study indicates.

New Scientist <http://links.mkt751.com/ctt?kn=5&m=1942320&r=MTU4OTU3MDEyMAS2&b=0&j=OTU5OTkyMTkS1&mt=1> (7/11, Than) reported, "Massive, rocky worlds called 'super-Earths' -- even those orbiting searingly close to their stars -- may provide the right conditions for life," according to researchers. According to Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, "new models show that if a tidally locked super-Earth has an atmosphere at least as dense as Earth's, strong winds could transport heat from its hot side to its cold side," as could a global ocean. Previously it had been thought that "the atmospheres of such worlds would quickly vanish, as water vapor and other atmospheric molecules on the planet's dark side would turn to ice and plunge to the ground." The new finding "means super-Earths could potentially host life as close as 0.05 astronomical units away from dim stars known as red dwarfs, which make up about 85 percent of the stars in the galaxy." Further, some experts say, "super-Earths might even be more likely to support life than their Earth-sized cousins" as they would likely "experience more plate tectonic activity," which is seen as "necessary for life."

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