Other solar systems may have a large number of planets that are home to alien life, a new study has found.
Research suggests that other parts of the universe may be hosts to many habitable planets, unlike our solar system, where only one of the worlds has the right conditions for life to flourish.
Scientists looking for life elsewhere in the universe regularly look for planets in the “habitable zone”, which are far enough away from their star that the water is not immediately evaporated, but close enough not to freeze.
Download the new Premium Premium application
Share the whole story, not just the news
The researchers think that finding planets at that specific distance from their star, which is also known as the Goldilocks area, is the best hope for finding alien life elsewhere in the universe.
The new study was sparked by looking at a famous, relatively nearby planetary system ̵
1; known as Trappist-1 – that has at least three planets in its habitable zone.
“This has made me wonder about the maximum number of habitable planets that are possible for a star to have, and why our star has only one,” astrobiologist Stephen Kane from UC Riverside, who led the study published in The Astronomical Journal this week, he said. “It didn’t look fair!”
To understand how much habitable planets a solar system can support, the researchers create a model that allows them to simulate planets of different sizes orbiting their stars. It amounted to the way those planets interacted with each other as they orbited around their star, orbiting a theoretical time of millions of years.
They found that stars like our Sun could support six planets, each with liquid water and the conditions to be habitable. Other types of stars can support a full seven.
If there is more to it, the planets get closer to each other, disrupting their orbits.
Research has also helped shed light on why our planet has one relatively serious habitable planet, and changing conditions. Part of our problem seems to be that the planets of our solar system move around an oval shape – if their path is more regular and circular, they better minimize contact so they can have more stable orbits.
Jupiter may also deserve some of the blame for making our solar system so habitable. It is so large – two and a half times the mass of the rest of the planet of the combined solar system – that it engages space and disrupts everything around it, the study suggests.
“It has a big effect on the habitability of our solar system because it’s massive and disrupts other orbits,” Kane said.
Research can now help identify other solar systems that may be worth exploring for potential life. Which may inform research from NASA telescopes, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Exoplanet Habitat Observatory, which is looking through the universe in an attempt to find out which worlds may have the right conditions to be home.