Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New habitability model considers possibility of underground life


A new scientific model for understanding habitable environments on other planets was recently presented at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen.

Phys.org explains that an extraterrestrial environment is considered habitable if it is suitable for life “as we know it.” And, as Sean McMahon from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences explains, “Life ‘as we know it’ requires liquid water.” Previous models for considering habitability have only considered surface environments. But the new model, presented on Friday, September 7, expands environments in which scientists might find life to include subsurface environments.

Sean McMahon (Credit: The University of Aberdeen)
Scientists base their assumptions about life elsewhere in the universe on Earth-based life. But as McMahon points out, “We now know that many micro-organisms—perhaps half of all living things on Earth—reside deep in the rocky crust of the planet, not on the surface.” So it only seems natural to include subterranean environments when considering the potential habitability of an alien world.
The new habitability model developed by University of Aberdeen scientists takes into account a planet’s potential for underground water, and, therefore life. Based on this model, the team says habitable planets could be much more widespread than previously thought.