Thursday, 3 September 2015

Elliptical Galaxies --"More Likely to Be the Cradles of Life in the Universe"


The field of astrobiology has made huge strides in understanding the habitable zones around stars (stellar habitable zones) where life can begin, sustain its existence and evolve into complex forms. A few studies have extended this quest by modeling galactic-scale habitable zones (galactic habitable zones) for our Milky Way and specific elliptical galaxies.

However, estimating the habitability for galaxies spanning a wide range of physical properties has so far remained an outstanding issue. A "cosmobiological" framework allows us to sift through the entire galaxy population in the local universe and answer the question, "Which type of galaxy is most likely to host complex life in the cosmos?"

Interestingly, the three key astrophysical criteria governing habitability (total mass in stars, total metal mass and ongoing star formation rate) are found to be intricately linked through the "fundamental metallicity relation" as shown by Sloan Digital Sky Survey observations of more than a hundred thousand galaxies in the local universe.

Using this relation a team from Institute for Computational Cosmology, Department of Physics, University of Durham, UK Centre for Astrobiology, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, and the Consortium for Fundamental Physics, Lancaster University, have shown that metal-rich, shapeless giant elliptical galaxies at least twice as massive as the MW (with a tenth of its star formation rate) can potentially host ten thousand times as many habitable (Earth-like) planets, making them the most probable "cradles of life" in the universe.

The image at the top of the page shows billows of cosmic dust that swirl amid NGC 1316, a giant elliptical galaxy formed billions of years ago when two spiral galaxies merged. Photograph courtesy NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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