Computer simulations of the formation of planets by astrophysicists at the University of Bern found that Earth-like planets containing large amounts of water are much more common and suited to life than previously believed.
Researchers found that such potentially habitable planets roughly comparable in size to Earth are especially likely be found around red dwarf stars and are likely to be found orbiting in the habitable “Goldilocks Zones,” the region around a star that has just the right conditions for liquid water to be found on the planet’s surface. The astrophysicists suspect that an estimated 90 percent of these planets are at least 10 percent water by mass.
By comparison, Earth is .05 percent water by mass.
“Our models succeed in reproducing planets that are similar in terms of mass and period to the ones observed recently,” Dr. Yann Alibert, one of the scientists who conducted the study, said in a press statement. “Interestingly, we find that planets in close-in orbits around these type of stars are of small sizes. Typically, they range between 0.5 and 1.5 Earth radii with a peak at about 1.0 Earth radius.”
Red dwarfs are the longest lived and most common stars in the galaxy. This is good news for potential aliens, as life would have time to develop there.
For the vast majority of its history, life on Earth was relatively primitive. The earliest potential evidence of life on Earth is 3.5 billion years old, but the first multi-cellular animals did not appear until about 600 million years ago and were not diversified until roughly 542 million years ago in the Cambrian “explosion.”
European astronomers announced the discovery in August of a potentially habitable “second Earth,” dubbed “Proxima b,” orbiting the red dwarf star closest to our sun, Proxima Centauri. Life on “Proxima b” would be way different than on Earth because of the extreme conditions, but it would be feasible NASA scientists told The Daily Caller News Foundation in August.
Red dwarf stars are far dimmer than our sun, but life could still be possible there as they tend to have planets orbit much closer.
NASA is developing the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to find more of these types of world. TESS will do an initial search of these exoplanets, identifying thousands more during its projected two-year mission. Other NASA space and ground based telescopes will verify the discoveries, and begin the search for life on those exoplanets.
NASA’s old Kepler Space Telescope has already found and verified 1,284 new planets outside our solar system. Roughly 550 of the new exoplanets could be rocky planets like Earth based on their size. Nine of these exoplanets orbit in their stars’ “Goldilocks Zones.”
The Kepler telescope has been in orbit since 2009, and the successor telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is only halfway completed after a long history of major cost overruns and delays. JWST is relatively tiny compared to larger Earth-based telescopes, but infrared capabilities and a position above the atmosphere could allow it to locate potentially habitable planets around other stars, perhaps even extraterrestrial life. When launched, JWST will work with TESS to verify discoveries.
The JWST was initially projected to cost $1.6 billion and should have been launched in 2011. The Government Accountability Office now estimates the final cost at $8.8 billion, and NASA has scheduled the telescope for an October 2018 launch, but the project is at risk of further delays. The telescope cost taxpayers $645.4 million in 2015 alone, accounting for roughly 13 percent of NASA’s annual science budget.
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