‘Goldilocks zone’ may not be a good metric for whether life exists on exoplanets, say astrobiologists

This article was first published in Physics World Magazine

Most exoplanets lying in the habitable zones around stars are in fact inhospitable to plant life as we know it. That is according to a new study from microbiologists and astronomers at the University of Georgia who say that taking into account the light a planet receives as well as its ability to hold liquid water is a better definition of whether life could exist on other planets.

Out of this world: researchers hope their work will be used to direct observational resources towards planets more likely to show life (courtesy: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

The Habitable Zone (HZ) is traditionally defined to be the range of distances around a star where an exoplanet can support liquid water on its surface. Too far, and the planet remains frozen like Mars. Too close and the oceans evaporate, as happened to Venus. The zone in the middle is neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right – the so-called “Goldilocks zone”.

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