Theoretical Astrophysicists Have Discovered That Many Planets Could be Suitable for Alien Life


The hunt for extra-terrestrials has expanded, after theoretical astrophysicists discovered that millions of planets once dismissed as inhospitable could in fact be suitable for alien life.

Earth-like planets are the obvious first place to look for life, but a large number of these orbit stars known as orange and red dwarfs, which are smaller than the Earth’s sun. Dwarf stars are extremely common—they make up more than 70% of stars in the universe—and nearly every red dwarf is thought to have a planet located within a habitable distance and with similar water levels to Earth.

But until recently, there’s been a catch—Earth-sized planets rotating dwarfs were thought to suffer from rotational lockup. That means they rotate with one side always facing the star, much like how one side of the Moon always faces the Earth. This would create a planet that was half scorching desert and half ice sheet, which is hardly ideal for life.

But research published in Science Express earlier this year found that this isn’t necessarily the case. The authors, led by Jérémy Leconte, a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, built a three-dimensional climate model and found that a thin atmosphere would allow a planet to break free of rotational lockup and spin as it rotates around the star.

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SOURCE: Quartz, Olivia Goldhill