Planets orbiting the scattered stars around the Milky Way may be even more hospitable to life than the Earth, researchers claim.

According to a new study by Ohio State University, any planets orbiting those stars may very well be hotter and more dynamic than Earth.

The interiors of any terrestrial planets in these systems are likely warmer than Earth - up to 25 per cent, which would make them more geologically active and more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life, at least in its microbial form.

Researchers studied eight “solar twins” of the Sun — stars that very closely match it in size, age, and overall composition — in order to measure the amounts of radioactive elements they contain.

Those stars came from a data set recorded by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrometer at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

They searched the solar twins for elements such as thorium and uranium, which are essential to Earth’s plate tectonics because they warm our planet’s interior.

Plate tectonics helps maintain water on the surface of the Earth, so the existence of plate tectonics is sometimes taken as an indicator of a planet’s hospitality to life.

Of the eight solar twins they’ve studied so far, seven appear to contain much more thorium than our Sun — which suggests that any planets orbiting those stars probably contain more thorium, too.

That, in turn, means that the interior of the planets are probably warmer than ours, researchers said in a statement.

For instance, one star in the survey contains 2.5 times more thorium than our Sun, said Ohio State researcher Cayman Unterborn.

According to the measurements, terrestrial planets that formed around that star probably generate 25 per cent more internal heat than Earth does, allowing for plate tectonics to persist longer through a planet’s history, giving more time for life to arise.

“If it turns out that these planets are warmer than we previously thought, then we can effectively increase the size of the habitable zone around these stars by pushing the habitable zone farther from the host star, and consider more of those planets hospitable to microbial life,” said Unterborn.

“At this point, all we can say for sure is that there is some natural variation in the amount of radioactive elements inside stars like ours,” he added.

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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