Outcast Planets Could Support Life

Published in ScienceNOW, 11 Feb 2011

If aliens exist, where are they? Many astronomers look to the nearest stars, in the hope that they harbor a warm, wet planet like Earth. But now a pair of researchers believe extraterrestrial life could exist on a rogue planet that has been ejected from its birthplace.

Astronomers have never spotted a rogue planet with certainty, but computer simulations suggest that our galaxy could be teeming with them. Slingshotted out of their planetary system by the gravity of a bigger planet, these lone worlds zoom far from their parent suns, slowly freezing in the cold of outer space. Any water fit for life would freeze, too. Yet in a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters, planetary scientists Dorian Abbot and Eric Switzer of the University of Chicago in Illinois suggest that a rogue planet could support a hidden ocean under its blanket of ice, kept warm by geothermal activity. […]

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