A new study, published in the journal Astrobiology, details “super habitable” exoplanets that carry the characteristics of supporting life. The study was led by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a scientist at Washington State University. The planets identified in the study include planets that are older than Earth, warmer, and possibly even containing more water content than our planet.
Well why don’t we send probes to these planets to learn more about them? The reason—the top 24 planets in the list of exoplanets identified in the study are all more than 100 light years from Earth. Though we don’t have the capability to send spacecraft to these distant planets, identifying these exoplanets could be helpful in the distant future. It also helps researchers learn more about the history and formation of our planet.
“With the next space telescopes coming up, we will get more information, so it is important to select some targets,” says Schulze-Makuch. “We have to focus on certain planets that have the most promising conditions for complex life. However, we have to be careful to not get stuck looking for a second Earth because there could be planets that might be more suitable for life than ours.”
Schulze-Makuch, a geobiologist, teamed up with astronomers Rene Heller of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and Edward Guinan of Villanova University to come up with the criteria that identifies a planet as “super habitable.” This led to the team searching amongst more than 4,500 known exoplanets to find the most habitable ones. It is important to note that this doesn’t imply that these planets contain life. Until now, there has been no solid evidence of extraterrestrial life identified among any exoplanets.
The team scanned through planets that orbit in their star’s “habitable zone” that allows the formation of liquid water. The presence of liquid water is the basic criteria for a planet to be classified as super habitable. However, the set of stars that can classify this criteria is limit. In the case of our own planet, it took the Sun 4 billion years to develop life-forming conditions on our planet (in its total 10 billion year lifespan). Stars with a shorter lifespan are unlikely to develop terrestrial/habitable planets before dying out.
There are many other factors other than the star that makes it easier to identify a potentially “super habitable” exoplanet. Factors such as the planets size, mass, and orbit also are huge deciding factors. One of the 24 identified super habitable exoplanets meet all four basic criteria set forth by the team for possible human habitability.
“It’s sometimes difficult to convey this principle of superhabitable planets because we think we have the best planet,” Schulze-Makuch says. “We have a great number of complex and diverse lifeforms, and many that can survive in extreme environments. It is good to have adaptable life, but that doesn’t mean that we have the best of everything.”
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