Astronomers attempted to find the best real estate for Earth-like life in the Milky Way. They focused on giant space explosions and also explored the Milky Way’s history.
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You probably know that the Milky Way is a giant spiral that is 150,000 – 200,000 light-years across and has about 100,000,000,000 to 400,000,000,000 stars in it. So, it’s pretty obvious that not every place has the same conditions. And searching especially for conditions that could at least potentially support life as we know it from Earth is proving to be harder than we used to think.
Italian astronomer Riccardo Spinelli from the University of Insubria and his colleagues searched the Milky Way and tried to find the best places for life as we know it. They focused primarily on giant space explosions such as supernovae or gamma-ray blasts that wipe out the area with devastating radiation and are not exactly helpful for life.
From this point of view, places with fewer of these explosions are much safer for life Floods of high-energy particles can easily kill all life on the surface of an afflicted planet but can also very probably wreck the atmospheres of these worlds completely not only wiping the life on them but also destroying any chance for life reemerging there any time soon.
The researchers searched not only the current Milky Way but also peaked into its history – up to 11 billion years into the past. To do that, they used models for the evolution of galaxies and stars. They say that until about 6 billion years ago the vast majority of stars in the Milky Way were practically uninhabitable because planetary systems were being constantly wiped out by the ever-present hard radiation.
Luckily for us, as the Milky Way grew more mature devastating space explosions were becoming less and less common. From our current view, the best real estate for life is about halfway from the galactic center – from 6,500 to 26,000 light-years away from it.
If you go closer toward the center supernovae and similar space explosions are still too common. On the other hand, if you go too far toward the edge of the Milky Way has fewer rocky planets and gamma-ray bursts are more prominent there.
The interesting thing is that our own beloved Solar system is at the very edge of this area. But we don’t have to be afraid as the prospects for life will only get better and better.
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