Earth is the only planet we know that has sentient life – but astronomers have found two dozen exoplanets that may have better conditions for life than our home world.
A team led by Washington State University identified 24 ‘superhabitable’ planets out of more than 4,500 known exoplanets that could be a good candidate for life.
They are older, a little larger, wetter and slightly warmer than the Earth and these factors, when taken together with a slightly cooler and longer-living star create better conditions for complex life to develop, the team explained.
While no single planet meets all of the criteria for ‘superhabitability’, they all score higher than Earth overall.
Even though the worlds are all more than 100 light years away – too far away for us to ever visit – the researchers say the discovery can help in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
Lead author Dirk Schulze-Makuch says it is important to focus space telescope time on likely candidates, and these have the most promising conditions for complex life.
Just because the team say the planets meet the conditions for ‘superhabitability’, it doesn’t mean they are actually habitable as our telescopes can’t see their atmospheres yet – that will come with new technology in the coming years.
For the study, Schulze-Makuch, a geobiologist with expertise in planetary habitability, teamed up with astronomers to identify potential superhabitability criteria.
The team, which included Rene Heller of the Max Planck Institute and Edward Guinan of Villanova University searched through 4,500 known exoplanets.
Over the next few years a raft of space-based telescopes will come online including NASA’s James Webb telescope, the LUVIOR space observatory and ESA’s PLATO.
‘With the next space telescopes coming up, we will get more information, so it is important to select some targets,’ said 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.’
Habitability does not mean these planets definitely have life, merely that they likely have the conditions that would be conducive to life and are worth further study.
The researchers selected systems with probable terrestrial planets orbiting within the host star’s ‘liquid water habitable zone’ – also known as the Goldilocks zone.
They don’t have the ability to say whether a planet it actually ‘wetter than Earth’, as defined by their criteria, but predict that those planets meeting other criteria such as size, distance from star and surface temperature, will have the required water.
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Source: Daily Mail