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Earth-like planets raise prospects of extra-terrestial life: study

by Staff Writers
Boston, Massachusetts (AFP) Feb 17, 2008
Planets resembling Earth can be found orbiting many sun-like stars in our galaxy, increasing the prospects of finding extraterrestial life on some of them, according to a study released Sunday.

University of Arizona astronomer Michael Meyer, working with NASA's Spitzer space telescope, said his research shows that between 20 percent and 60 percent of stars similar to our sun have conditions favorable for forming rocky planets like Earth.

"To study the evolution of gas and dust around sun-like stars is to understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems," said Meyer, who was to present his findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"If we were thinking of what life could emerge around other stars, we might want to know how common rocky planets like Earth might be," he said of his findings, which also appear in the latest edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

But he said a lot more research is needed to pin down the prospects for extraterrestial life somewhere in the universe.

"What we need is much more data, more missions, more observations to inform what we hope will become a predicted theory of planet formation that we can use to guide our search for life in the universe," Meyer said at a press conference.

The astronomer and his team of scientists studied six groups of stars -- all similar to our sun and sorted by age -- with the youngest being between 10 and 30 million years old and the oldest between a billion and three billion years old.

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Nigel Mason is director of research at the Centre of Molecular and Optical Science at the Open University in the UK. One of the Centre's main focuses of study is on Astrobiology, specifically on determining how simple molecules such as methane, ammonia or water found in the interstellar medium can be transformed into the building blocks of biochemistry.

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