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Oceans of life may be more common than we thought.

When astronomers examined a nearby rocky world beyond our solar system they discovered conditions that may support vast oceans, brimming with life, according to a recent study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

And we're just a few years away from potentially detecting biosignatures on an alien world.

Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO's VLT), based in Chile, the team of astronomers discovered something exciting about planets orbiting a nearby star, called L 98-59. These planets are similar to those of our inner Solar System, and one of them is half the mass of Venus. The lightest exoplanet to be measured via the radial velocity technique, astronomers think it may also be a warm, ocean world, perfectly nested within its host star's habitable zone. "The planet in the habitable zone may have an atmosphere that could protect and support life," said Astronomer Maria Rosa Zapatero Osorio of the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, who is also one of the study authors, in a press release from the observatory.

 

The new findings mark a historic step on the path to identifying life on Earth-like planets beyond our solar system, but there is still work to be done before we can definitively declare the existence of life out there. Scientists have to analyze the planet's atmosphere for biosignatures, and modern-day telescopes aren't large enough to provide the resolution needed to do this for small, rocky planets. But we can still mark the L98-59 system for future observations of exoplanet atmospheres. And if humanity survives that long, we definitely will: The star is only 35 light-years away, and hosts rocky planets, like Mars or Venus, which are neither too distant, nor too close to the star for life to form.

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