Circumstellar habitable zones for deep terrestrial biospheres

Sean Hendry McMahon, Jack O'Malley-James, John Parnell

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18 Citations (Scopus)
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The habitable zone (HZ) is conventionally the thin shell of space around a star within which liquid water is thermally stable on the surface of an Earth-like planet (Kasting et al., 1993). However, life on Earth is not restricted to the surface and includes a "deep biosphere" reaching several km in depth. Similarly, subsurface liquid water maintained by internal planetary heat could potentially support life well outside conventional HZs. We introduce a new term, subsurface-habitability zone (SSHZ) to denote the range of distances from a star within which rocky planets are habitable at any depth below their surfaces up to a stipulated maximum, and show how SSHZs can be estimated from a model relating temperature, depth and orbital distance. We present results for Earth-like, Mars-like and selected extrasolar terrestrial planets, and conclude that SSHZs are several times wider and include many more planets than conventional surface-based habitable zones. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-318
Number of pages7
JournalPlanetary and space science
Early online date18 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2013

Bibliographical note

SM and JOJ are grateful to the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for Aurora Studentships. We thank Dr. Stephen Clifford (LPI), Dr. Ravi Kopparapu (Penn State), and Claire Davis (St. Andrews) for generous technical advice. We thank Norm
Sleep and two anonymous reviewers for constructive reviews of the manuscript


  • habitable zones
  • deep biosphere
  • subsurface
  • astrobiology
  • exobiology
  • extrasolar planets
  • main-sequence stars
  • Mars
  • planets
  • energy
  • clouds
  • earths
  • life


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