The search for life-hosting exoplanets is now easier with a new metric developed by scientists with the Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington.
As telescopes become more powerful and enable the scientific community to bring to light an ever-increasing number of exoplanets, choosing research targets becomes more difficult. In order to help the scientists pick those exoplanets that have the potential to harbor life, a new metric has been developed.
Titled the ‘Habitability Index for Transiting Planets’, the new metric is a valuable tool in the search for life-hosting exoplanets. The paper, authored by Rory Barnes, Victoria Meadows and Nicole Evans, and including the habitability index is accepted for publication and will be featuring in the Astrophysical Journal.
So far, the Kepler Space Telescope alone has detected thousands of exoplanets that could become research targets one day. Yet, the impressive number poses difficulties when it comes to available research resources. The upcoming launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2018 could help narrow down the number of exoplanets worth a closer look in terms of habitability. Its main purpose is to analyze the atmosphere composition of rocky exoplanets. However, data retrieved from the James Webb Telescope in the future is still not deemed sufficient to zero-in on those planets that could harbor life.
Another satellite will be launched in 2017. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is also on the lookout for more worlds that could turn out to be similar to our home planet. Nonetheless, access to these technologies is costly and time-consuming.
The new metric aims to smooth the path for the scientific community in a cost and time effective manner. Typically, in order to determine which exoplanets have a better chance of hosting life or at least life conditions, astronomers use the Goldilocks zone or the habitable zone in their endeavor.
This means that an exoplanet is located just at the right distance from its host star to support liquid water on the surface. This binary designation is not sufficient, claim the creators of the new metric.
According to Rory Barnes:
“That was a great first step, but it doesn’t make any distinctions within the habitable zone. Now it’s as if Goldilocks has hundreds of bowls of porridge to choose from”.
How is it that the search for life-hosting exoplanets is now easier? The scientists included more data in their new metric, which is capable of producing a continuum of values.
The Habitability Index for Transiting Planets offers astronomers to include the data at hand in a web form provided by the Virtual Planetary Laboratory which will return a number representative for the exoplanet’s habitability index.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia
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