Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that the chance of finding Earth-like planets in the early stages of formation is much higher than previously thought.
The team of scientists studied the groups of young stars in the Milky Way to see if these groups were typical compared to theories and previous observations in other star-forming regions in space, and to study whether populations of stars in these groups influenced the likelihood of detecting the formation of Earth-like planets.
A study published in The Astrophysical Journal found that these groups of Sun-like stars are larger than expected, increasing the chances of finding Earth-like planets early in their formation.
In the early stages of formation, planets like Earth are still created by collisions with asteroids and smaller planets, which causes them to become very hot and their surface turns into molten rock.
Dr. Richard Parker of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield said: “These oceans of magma planets are easier to spot near stars like the Sun, which are 2 times heavier than average-mass stars. These planets emit so much heat that we can observe the glow from them using next-generation infrared telescopes.
The places where these planets can be found are the so-called "young moving groups" - groups of young stars less than 100 million years old. They usually contain only a few dozen stars and were previously difficult to identify because they merge into the background of the Milky Way galaxy.
“Observations with the Gaia telescope helped to find many more stars in these groups, which allowed this study to be carried out,” says Parker.
The results of the study will help to better understand whether star formation is universal and will be an important source for studying how rocky Earth-like habitable planets form. The team now hopes to use computer simulations to explain the origins of these young, moving star clusters.