As researchers continue to ponder on whether life may exist on some distant planet in the depths of space, a team from Northwestern University in Illinois has stepped forward to help find an answer.
A new study conducted by Northwestern scientists in collaboration with researchers from University of Colorado Boulder, NASA's Virtual Planet Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helped determine what factors affect the likelihood of a planet harbouring life on its surface, thus potentially narrowing the list of targets for astronomers scouring the vastness of space with their telescopes, according to a press release cited by Astrobiology Web.
"'Are we alone?' is one of the biggest unanswered questions," Howard Chen, one of the study’s authors, said. "If we can predict which planets are most likely to host life, then we might get that much closer to answering it within our lifetimes."
The research team was able to determine that radiation emitted by a star plays a key role in determining a planet’s habitability, as planets orbiting active stars risk losing considerable amounts of water due to vaporisation.
They also established that planet’s whose ozone layers are too thin also couldn’t sustain life as the level of UV radiation reaching the surface would simply be too hazardous.
"Our study can help limit the number of places we have to point our telescopes," Daniel Horton, another author of the study, added.