In search of life beyond Earth: scientists explore plate tectonics on exoplanets

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(ORDO NEWS) — If we’re going to find life in the universe, it makes sense to look at the conditions on the only planet we know to have life to get an idea of ​​what kind of conditions to look for. One of the key factors influencing the development of life is the presence of continents and associated plate tectonics.

While the movements of Earth‘s tectonic plates can cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, they also play an important role in creating the conditions for life. They help equalize the temperature of our planet, in part by removing carbon as tectonic plates subduct, and keep us in an area suitable for life.

In a new study, astronomy professor Jane Greaves from Cardiff University proposes a unique approach to finding potential Earth-like exoplanets by examining plate tectonics. She calls for attention to planets where plate tectonics existed longer than on Earth. This could give them longer periods of time to develop life and perhaps even surpass the level of development of our own civilization.

Although plate tectonics on exoplanets has not yet been discovered, Greaves offers an interesting method for narrowing down the search. He focuses on studying the chemical composition of the host stars that surround these planets. By analyzing the galactic iron and silicon content of these stars, inferences can be made about the availability of materials needed for plate tectonics on their exoplanets.

“The combination of galactic iron and silicon promotes increased core:mantle proportions, reducing the likelihood of plate tectonics,” explains Greaves. She also adds that “higher levels of radioisotopes may hinder planetary motion, limiting continents and biospheres.”

On Earth, our sticky mantle is heated by the decay of uranium-238, thorium-232 and potassium-40. These elements did not arise on their own, but were created through neutron star mergers and supernova explosions. Therefore, Greaves says, searching for the “stellar abundance” of these elements could help us discover planets with biospheres more advanced than our own.

“The prospects for searching for rocky exoplanets with continents appear very promising, given that nearby Sun-like stars have already given rise to several potential hosts,” Greaves writes in his paper. “Further studies, particularly of stellar abundances of thorium and potassium, could help reveal more ancient systems where life on land may have predated life on Earth.”

This research provides new approaches in the search for life beyond our planet. Finding planets with conditions similar to Earth could bring us closer to finding answers to one of the most fundamental questions: are we alone in the universe and is there other life?


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