Scientists have discovered which planets could harbor alien life – and which probably aren't – as part of a groundbreaking new study.
The new research aims to help narrow the worlds astronomers must search while trying to find extraterrestrial life.
Scientists already know a vast number of exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system: telescopes have already helped us catalog thousands, with many more to come. But it is much more difficult to know how the conditions of these planets can be, as they are very different.
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To narrow this down, the researchers behind the new study combined a variety of data to understand how the habitable planets around dwarf stars M – which make up 70 percent of those in our galaxy – might be. Planets around dwarf stars M are thought to be the most likely place to find alien life because they are very common and therefore easier to find.
The study helped them redefine our understanding of whether a planet could be habitable by adding new questions to planets, taking into account radiation from a star and how the planets rotate.
This in turn helped them understand how radiation from a star heats or cools the atmosphere of a rocky planet. This will help us to know if there can be water in the world and thus to know if it is possible for life to grow there.
Among other findings, the researchers found that only worlds around active stars lose significant water when it turns into steam. These planets around calmer stars are likely to cling to water, and therefore are likely to be more likely houses of alien life.
They also found that planets that have thin layers of ozone receive dangerously high doses of UV. This makes them dangerous for any complex life that might try to thrive on its surface, even if it seems perfect because of the temperature.
The new research was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, University of Colorado Boulder, NASA Virtual Planet Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was published this week in the Astrophysical Journal.
"For most of human history, the question of whether or not life exists elsewhere belongs only to the philosophical domain," said Howard Chen, the study's first author. "Only in recent years have we had modeling tools and observation technology to address this issue."
Now scientists are working on which planets to look at.
"Still, there are many stars and planets out there, which means there are many targets," said Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. "Our study can help limit the number of places we have to point our telescopes."
Scientists have the means to detect water vapor and other important data to understand if a life can be habitable aboard the upcoming Hubble Space Telescope and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which will search distant planets for signals. that might indicate life. New research should help you decide where in the galaxy they are looking.
"Are we alone? It's one of the biggest unanswered questions," Chen said. "If we can predict which planets are most likely to host life, we may be much closer to answering it during our lives."