Astronomers Discover the Type of Stars that Birth Rocky Planets Like Earth

First Posted: Dec 06, 2015 04:51 PM EST

What kind of stars will form rocky planets? Astronomers have taken a closer look to find patterns and features that indicate what types of planets are likely to form around different kinds of stars.

When a star is young, it is surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust, from which its planets form. It's expected that the chemical composition of the star should in some way affect the compositions of the planets orbiting it. For example, previous research has suggested that gas giant planets actually usually form around iron-rich stars.

In this latest study, the researchers measured a large suite of elements besides iron. They found that stars with Earth-sized rocky planets are overall chemically similar to those with Neptune-sized planets, and to stars with no planets, but not to stars with gas giant planets.

"There has been much ongoing debate about the stellar conditions necessary for planet formation," said Simon Schuler, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Our results support the theory that the formation of small, rocky planets can occur around stars with diverse elemental compositions."

The findings also mean that small, rocky planets may be more commonplace than previously thought. This is especially important as the hunt for life on other worlds in the universe continues.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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