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Astrobiologists have long discussed the idea that planets can only be capable of supporting life if liquid water exists on the surface. Obviously, this is only possible if the temperature on the planet is similar to Earth's and this, in turn, implies a certain distance from the mother star.

The search for planets in this so-called habitable zone has intensified in recent years with the launch of space telescopes such as Kepler that is finding new exoplanets at a dramatic rate.

But the idea that there may be zones within the galaxy that are particularly conducive to life is a much newer idea. The thinking here is that planets capable of supporting life are much more likely to exist around stars in certain parts of the galaxy.

Convention has it that the galactic habitable zone is a torus about 30 lightyears in diameter around the centre of the galaxy. So habitable planets are unlikely to form close to the galactic centre or very far away from it.

Today, however, Michael Gowanlock at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and a couple of pals, reveal a new map of the galactic habitable zone in which challenges this convention and suggests that the galactic habitable zone is much more complex than a simple torus.

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Category: Science