Astronomers redefine the habitable zone for exoplanets

The new definition of a star's habitable zone will affect how we search for habitable exoplanets. Credit: PHL@UPR Arecibo / Rogelio Bernal Andreo
The new definition of a star’s habitable zone will affect how we search for habitable exoplanets.
Credit: PHL@UPR Arecibo / Rogelio Bernal Andreo

When searching for potentially habitable exoplanets, one of the key factors to take into consideration is the habitable zone, the region around a star where temperatures could allow liquid water to exist on the surface of any rocky planets that may orbit them.

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Billions of planets in our galaxy

Astronomers now estimate that there are billions of planets in our galaxy alone.Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Astronomers now estimate that there are billions of planets in our galaxy alone.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The new year has barely begun, and already it has been a good one for exoplanets. In a previous update, it was reported that the Kepler space telescope has added hundreds of exoplanet candidates to its rapidly growing list. That is exciting enough, but another new study now, similar to other ones, estimates that there are billions of other planets in our galaxy alone.

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Kepler space telescope discovers 461 new exoplanet candidates

Diagram showing the current number of Kepler exoplanetary candidates, listed by size. The numbers of candidates which are Earth-size and super-Earth-size have increased by 43% and 21% since the last update in 2012. Credit: NASA

The Kepler space telescope has added hundreds of more exoplanet candidates to its already long and ever-growing list, it was announced today. There is now a current total of 2,740 planetary candidates, orbiting 2,036 stars.

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Some exoplanets may be even more habitable than Earth

Some rocky exoplanets may be warmer and more geologically active than Earth—and perhaps even more habitable. Credit: J. Pinfield / RoPACS / University of Hertfordshire

In the search for life elsewhere, the Earth is typically used as a standard against which other planets, or moons, are compared. Since our planet is teeming with seemingly countless life forms, it must represent the near-perfect, most ideal conditions for life to flourish, right? It would seem so, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case, that there may be other exoplanets in other solar systems which are even better suited for life than Earth is.

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