A new study has found that other solar systems can have a large number of planets that are home to extraterrestrial life.
Research suggests that other parts of the universe could host many planets that are habitable, unlike our solar system, where only one of the worlds has the right conditions to thrive.
Scientists looking for life elsewhere in space are regularly searching for planets in the “habitable zone” that are far enough away from their star so that the water does not evaporate immediately, but close enough not to freeze.
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Scientists believe that finding planets at this particular distance from their star, also known as the Goldilocks Zone, is the best hope of finding extraterrestrial life elsewhere in space.
The new study was triggered by a look at a famous, relatively close planetary system ̵
1; known as Trappist-1 – that has at least three planets in its habitable zone.
“This forced me to be interested in the maximum number of habitable planets that a star can have, and why our star has only one,” said astrobiologist Stephen Kane of UC Riverside, who led a study published in Astronomical magazine this week, he said. “It didn’t seem fair!”
To understand how many habitable planets the solar system can support, scientists are creating a model that has allowed them to simulate planets of different sizes orbiting their stars. This was responsible for the way these planets would interact as they orbit their star and stretched for a theoretical period of millions of years.
They found that a star like our Sun can carry up to six planets, each of which is liquid water and living conditions. Other types of stars could support as many as seven.
If there were more, the planets would move too close to each other and disrupt their orbits.
Research has also helped shed light on why our planet has a relatively poor habitable planet and conditions that would change that. Part of our problem seems to be that the planets in our solar system move in an oval shape – if their orbits are more regular and circular, they better minimize contact so that they can have more stable orbits.
Jupiter could also deserve some of the blame for making our solar system so uninhabitable. The study suggests that it is so large – twice and half the mass of the rest of the planet in the solar system – that it blocks space and disrupts everything around it.
“It has a big impact on the habitability of our solar system because it is huge and disrupts other orbits,” Kane said.
Research could now help identify other solar systems that might be worth exploring for potential life. It could inform about research on Nasa telescopes, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Observatory Exoplanet Observatory, which looks into space to find out which worlds might have the right conditions to be at home.