The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a new online database of habitable worlds

December 5, 2011
Scientists are now starting to identify potential habitable exoplanets after nearly twenty years of the detection of the first planets around other stars. This image shows all known examples using 18 mass and temperature categories similar to a periodic table, including confirmed and unconfirmed exoplanets. Only 16 in the Terrans groups are potential habitable candidates. Credit: PHL copyright UPR Arecibo

Scientists are now starting to identify potential habitable exoplanets after nearly twenty years of the detection of the first planets around other stars. Over 700 exoplanets have been detected and confirmed with thousands more still waiting further confirmation by missions such as NASA Kepler. Most of these are gas giants, similar to Jupiter and Neptune, but orbiting very dangerously close to their stars. Only a few have the right size and orbit to be considered suitable for any life.

Now the Planetary Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo (UPR Arecibo) presents a new assessment of the habitability of these worlds as part of its Habitable Exoplanets Catalog (HEC). The catalog not only identifies new potential habitable exoplanets, including exomoons like the world in the movie Avatar, but also ranks them according to various habitability indices.

"One important outcome of these rankings is the ability to compare exoplanets from best to worst candidates for life", says Abel Méndez, Director of the PHL and principal investigator of the project.

The catalog uses new habitability assessments like the Earth Similarity Index (ESI), the Habitable Zones Distance (HZD), the Global Primary Habitability (GPH), classification systems, and comparisons with Earth past and present. It also uses data from other databases, such as the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia (http://www.exoplanet.eu), the Exoplanet Data Explorer (http://www.exoplanets.org), the Mission (http://www.kepler.nasa.gov), and other sources.

According to Méndez, "New observations with ground and orbital observatories will discover thousands of exoplanets in the coming years. We expect that the analyses contained in our catalog will help to identify, organize, and compare the life potential of these discoveries."

The catalog lists and categorizes exoplanets discoveries using various classification systems, including tables of planetary and stellar properties. One of the classifications divides them into eighteen mass and thermal categories, creating a table similar to a periodic table for exoplanets. Additional resources of the catalog will include scientific visualizations and stellar maps of exoplanets. Various undergraduate students participated in the project.

Only two confirmed exoplanets so far match the criteria for habitability in the catalog, Gliese 581d and HD 85512b, both still marginally Earth-like. However, the catalog identifies over 15 exoplanets and 30 exomoons as potential habitable candidates. Future observations with new instruments, such as the proposed NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), will be necessary to confirm the suitability for life of any of these candidates.

"I hope this database will help increase interest in building a big space-based telescope to observe directly and look for possible signatures of life," says Jim Kasting, an expert on planetary habitability science from Penn State.

Explore further: Earth's past, made visible

More information: The catalog is available now online at the PHL website www.phl.upr.edu . A poster will be presented at the Kepler Science Conference from December 5th to 9th, 2011 in NASA Ames, Moffet Field, California.

Related Stories

Earth's past, made visible

May 23, 2011

New visualizations of the Earth from space provide a unique image of how the Earth has changed over the past 750 million years.

Habitable zones

August 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The "habitable zone" is the region around a star where a suitable planet could sustain the conditions necessary for life. Most astronomers take it to be the region where the balance between stellar radiation ...

Recommended for you

New eruptions detected in two luminous blue variables

December 12, 2017

(Phys.org)—Astronomers report the detection of new eruptions in two luminous blue variables, known as R 40 and R 110, located in the Magellanic Clouds. The finding, presented December 5 in a paper published on the arXiv ...

Telescopes team up to study giant galaxy

December 12, 2017

Astronomers have used two Australian radio telescopes and several optical telescopes to study complex mechanisms that are fuelling jets of material blasting away from a black hole 55 million times more massive than the Sun.

Juno probes the depths of Jupiter's great red spot

December 12, 2017

Data collected by NASA's Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter's Great Red Spot in July 2017 indicate that this iconic feature penetrates well below the clouds. Other revelations from the mission include that ...

Unravelling the mysteries of extragalactic jets

December 11, 2017

University of Leeds researchers have mathematically examined plasma jets from supermassive black holes to determine why certain types of jets disintegrate into huge plumes.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nik_2213
5 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2011
Corrected link: http://phl.upr.edu/

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.