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New research suggests the habitable zone around some stars – the so-called Goldilocks zone – could be up to 30 per cent bigger than previously thought.

This makes it much more likely that life-supporting planets exist elsewhere in our galaxy.

The study looked at the relationship between the radiation from red dwarf stars and the reflective quality – or albedo – of snow and ice cover on orbiting planets.

Red dwarfs are cooler than G-type stars like our Sun and give off energy at longer wavelengths. More of this energy is absorbed by snow and ice than reflected back into space. This warms the planet's surface, melting some of the ice to produce liquid water – a fundamental requirement for life.

"We knew that red dwarfs emit energy at a different wavelength, and we wanted to find out exactly what that might mean for the albedo of planets orbiting these stars," explained Dr. Manoj Joshi from the National Center for Atmospheric Science, who carried out the research in collaboration with Robert Haberle from the NASA Ames Research Center.

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