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Researchers develop model for identifying habitable zones around stars

1/30/2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Researchers searching the galaxy for planets that could pass the litmus test of sustaining water-based life must find whether those planets fall in what’s known as a habitable zone. New work, led by a team of Penn State researchers, will help scientists in that search. Using the latest data, the Penn State Department of Geosciences team developed an updated model for determining whether discovered planets fall within a habitable zone – where they could be capable of having liquid water and thus sustaining life. The work, described in a paper accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal, builds on a prior model by James Kasting, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, to offer a more precise calculation of where habitable zones around a star can be found.

Comparing the new estimates with the previous model, the team found that habitable zones are actually farther away from the stars than previously thought.

“This has implications for finding other planets with life on them,” said post-doctoral researcher Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, a lead investigator on the study.

For the paper, Kopparapu and graduate student Ramses Ramirez used updated absorption databases of greenhouse gases (HITRAN and HITEMP). The databases have more accurate information on water and carbon dioxide than previously was available and allowed the research team to build new estimates from the groundbreaking model Kasting created 20 years ago for other stars. (click to read full story)

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