A Southwest Research Institute scientist is using big data to help the scientific community characterize exoplanets, particularly alien worlds orbiting nearby stars. Of particular interest are exoplanets that could harbor life.
“At first scientists focused on temperatures, looking for exoplanets in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ – neither too close nor too far from the star, where liquid water could exist,” said Dr. Natalie Hinkel, a planetary astrophysicist at SwRI. “But the definition of habitability is evolving beyond liquid water and a cozy temperature.”
The planets also need the building blocks for life (such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus) as well as a rocky composition (including elements such as iron, silicon, and magnesium) for a planet to be habitable.