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Scientists pinpoint exoplanets where life could develop as it did on Earth

A new study identified exoplanets with the potential to develop life in the same manner as the Earth.
By Tyler MacDonald | Oct 12, 2019
Scientists have identified a group of planets outside the Milky Way that possess the same chemical conditions that likely led to the development of life on Earth. In particular, the team suggests that stars that give off ultraviolet (UV) light could kick-start the development of life on their orbiting planets, much like what happened on Earth.

"This work allows us to narrow down the best places to search for life," said Paul Rimmer, first author of the study. "It brings us just a little bit closer to addressing the question of whether we are alone in the universe.

John Sutherland, co-author of the paper, examined unique chemical reactions that, in the presence of UV light, create the precursors to amino acids, lipids, and nucleotides. All of these are essential parts of living cells.

"I came across these earlier experiments, and as an astronomer, my first question is always what kind of light are you using, which as chemists they hadn't really thought about," Rimmer said. "I started out measuring the number of photons emitted by their lamps, and then realised that comparing this light to the light of different stars was a straightforward next step."

However, it's still a possibility that life on other planets will develop in a manner different than how it progressed on Earth.

"I'm not sure how contingent life is, but given that we only have one example so far, it makes sense to look for places that are most like us," Rimmer said.

"There's an important distinction between what is necessary and what is sufficient," he added. "The building blocks are necessary, but they may not be sufficient: it's possible you could mix them for billions of years and nothing happens. But you want to at least look at the places where the necessary things exist."

The findings were published in Science Advances.


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