New planetary scale aims to grade alien worlds by habitability

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Oct 9, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

We have a whole lot of powerful telescopes and the data they produce, and a new research project aims to capitalize on all that info in a way we never have before. The end goal: Find Earth-2 (basically).

As Gizmodo notes, researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have developed a new habitability index that essentially grades alien planets based on a fine-tuned metric for their potential ability to support life. The goal is to better prioritize future targets for telescopes to study in closer detail. The big catalyst is the pending launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. 

“Basically, we’ve devised a way to take all the observational data that are available and develop a prioritization scheme, so that as we move into a time when there are hundreds of targets available, we might be able to say, ‘OK, that’s the one we want to start with,’” UW astronomer Rory Barnes said.

The project is the evolution of other habitability indexes, though the creators say this is the most advanced scale yet. Typically, other indexes just look for whether planet’s in the “Goldilock’s Zone” (meaning it’s not too hot, or too cold, to sustain life), but the new scale from UW looks at other data points in an effort to figure out in finer detail which planets have the best shot at featuring things like liquid water (for life!).

We might not know how we’re going to eventually get humans out there into deep space anytime soon, but when we do, we’ll hopefully have a laundry list of options to visit.

(Via University of Washington, Gizmodo)

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