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In the last 20 years the search for Earth-like planets around other stars has accelerated, with the launch of missions like the Kepler space telescope. Using these and observatories on the ground, astronomers have found numerous worlds that at first sight have similarities with Earth. A few of these are even in the 'habitable zone' where the temperature is just right for water to be in liquid form and so are prime targets in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Now a team of scientists have looked at how these worlds form and suggest that many of them may be a lot less clement than was though. They find that planets that form from less massive cores can become benign habitats for life, whereas the larger objects instead end up as 'mini-Neptunes' with thick atmospheres and probably stay sterile. The researchers, led by Dr. Helmut Lammer of the Space Research Institute (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, publish their results in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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