Researchers say life-giving minerals can move through ice sheets on alien planets. 

Oceans on water-rich exoplanets may be enriched with electrolytes, including salts such as sodium chloride, suggests a new modelling study.

Water-rich exoplanets and icy moons are promising environments for biological processes to take place. The planets are formed of a rocky core separated from the liquid water by a high-pressure ice shell. 

However, there has been significant debate about whether the transport of electrolytes from the rocky core into the liquid ocean could be hindered by an ice shell.

Researchers at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France have used molecular dynamics simulations and thermodynamic modelling to explore how electrolytes could be transported between the ice layer and the ocean on these planets. 

The authors found that salts, such as sodium chloride, could be incorporated in the high pressure ice shells and transported through the ice into the ocean. 

They argue this demonstrates that high-pressure ice mantles may not act as chemical barriers between rocky cores and liquid water oceans.

The study’s findings have been described as “the most convincing argument yet in resolving the dilemma of large planetary hydrosphere habitability”. 

The full study is accessible here.