Exoplanets & Exomoons

An Anthropic Prediction for the Prevalence of Water Worlds

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 13, 2016
Filed under
An Anthropic Prediction for the Prevalence of Water Worlds

Should we expect most habitable planets to share the Earth’s marbled appearance? Terrestrial planets within the habitable zone are thought to display a broad range of water compositions, due to the stochastic nature of water delivery.

The amplitude of their hypsometries will also differ. Such diversity, taken at face value, implies that the surfaces of most habitable planets will be heavily dominated by either water or land. Convergence towards the Earth’s equitably partitioned surface may occur if a strong feedback mechanism acts to regulate the exposure of land. However, it appears unlikely that known mechanisms could correct for disparities in water composition in excess of one order of magnitude.

It is therefore feasible that the Earth’s relatively balanced division of land and sea is highly atypical amongst habitable planets. We construct a simple model for the anthropic selection bias that may arise from an ensemble of surface conditions. Across a broad class of models we consistently find that (a) the Earth’s ocean coverage of 71% can be readily accounted for by observational selection effects, and (b) due to our proximity to the waterworld limit, the maximum likelihood model is one where the majority of habitable planets are waterworlds. This ‘Dry Earth’ scenario is consistent with results from numerical simulations, and could help explain the apparently low-mass transition in the mass-radius relation.

Fergus Simpson
(Submitted on 11 Jul 2016)

Comments: 11 pages, 9 figures
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics (astro-ph.CO)
Cite as: arXiv:1607.03095 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1607.03095v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Fergus Simpson
[v1] Mon, 11 Jul 2016 19:52:01 GMT (1313kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻