Scientists have found which planets could be home to alien life – and which are probably not – as part of a pioneering new study.
The new research aims to help narrow down the worlds that astronomers must comb through as they attempt to find extraterrestrial life.
They also found that those planets that have thin ozone layers get dangerously high dosages of UV. That makes them hazardous for any complex life that might try to thrive on their surface, even if they might otherwise appear perfect because of the temperature.
“For most of human history, the question of whether or not life exists elsewhere has belonged only within the philosophical realm,” said Northwestern’s Howard Chen, the study’s first author. “It’s only in recent years that we have had the modeling tools and observational technology to address this question.”
“Still, there are a lot of stars and planets out there, which means there are a lot of 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 vapour and other important data for understand whether a life could be habitable, on board the Hubble Space Telescope and the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, which will scour distant planets for signs that could indicate life. The new research should help decide where in the galaxy they are looking.
“‘Are we alone?’ is one of the biggest unanswered questions,” Chen said. “If we can predict which planets are most likely to host life, then we might get that much closer to answering it within our lifetimes.”