Switch to Desktop Site
 
 

Thanks to clouds, some 60 billion planets are habitable in Milky Way

New research that factors in the influence of cloud cover on alien climate has extended the habitable zone around red dwarf stars to include twice as many planets.

Image

This photo taken in June 2013 shows the Milky Way galaxy over Gem Island, on the east coast of Malaysia.

Vincent Thian/AP

About these ads

“Life would be dull if we had to look up at a cloudless monotony all day,” writes Gavin Pretor-Pinney in the Cloudspotter’s Guide.

That, and life would be more difficult to find.

New research that factors in cloud cover and its influence on alien climate has extended the habitable zone around red dwarf stars to include double the number of planets in that life-supporting region. That means that some 60 billion habitable planets could be orbiting red dwarf stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz
 

Scientists had previously believed that each red dwarf had just one Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone – the sweet spot just far enough from the sun that the planet’s water doesn’t turn to vapor in the overwhelming heat, and just close enough that water doesn’t freeze without the reassuring warmth of the sun’s glow.

But now that habitable zone, once thought to be fairly small around the eponymously named red dwarfs – the stars are small and faint, relative to our sun – has been expanded. That’s because the formula for calculating the habitable zone of far-flung planets had not previously included how cloud cover might mitigate the star’s influence planets. 

Next

Page:   1   |   2

Share