The chance of discovering Earth-like planets in their early stages of formation is higher than previously believed, new research from the University of Sheffield shows.
The team of scientists focused on groups of young stars in the Milky Way galaxy to see if they showcased similar characteristics as those in other star-forming regions in space. They also studied whether the populations of stars in these groups affected the likelihood of finding other early-stage Earth-like planets.
Data from the research, which is published in The Astrophysical Journal, confirms that stars like our sun are more abundant than previously thought—which would likely lead to the presence of other planets in their infancy that resembles Earth, also known as “magma ocean planets.”
These types of planets are still in the process of being created via collisions with rocks and other smaller planets, which can heat up the surface so much that they become molten rock.
“These magma ocean planets are easier to detect near stars like the sun, which are twice as heavy as the average mass star,” the research team’s leader Dr. Richard Parker, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said in a release.
“These planets emit so much heat that we will be able to observe the glow from them using the next generation of infrared telescopes.”
Using the Gaia space telescope assisted the team in discovering even more stars within the “young moving groups.”
“The locations where we would find these planets are so-called ‘young moving groups,’ which are groups of young stars that are less than 100 million years old—which is young for a star,” Parker added.
“However, they typically only contain a few tens of stars each and previously it was difficult to determine whether we had found all of the stars in each group because they blend into the background of the Milky Way galaxy. Observations from the Gaia telescope have helped us to find many more stars in these groups, which enabled us to carry out this study.”
The research findings are expected to not only help further the understanding of whether star formation is universal, but they will also be an important resource for studying how rocky planets like Earth form.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.