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Humankind's exploration of space has for years pondered one central question: Is there another world somewhere in the universe where human beings could survive?

And as astrophysicists and astronomers have searched for the answer, they've traditionally looked for a world that has water.

But Wendy Panero, professor of earth sciences at The Ohio State University, has developed a new way of thinking about a planet's habitability. What if, she wondered, the answer to habitability lies within the way rocks and water interact?

Panero presented her theory Dec. 12 at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

"We have traditionally looked for 'water worlds' -- places where one-half to one-quarter of the weight of the planet is water," Panero said. "That seems like an optimal thing, to go looking for water."

Instead of just looking for water, Panero thinks, scientists should also look to the planet's atmosphere.

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