SCIENTISTS have discovered 24 potentially «superhabitable» planets with conditions that may be better for life than Earth.
The mysterious worlds are older, larger, warmer and possibly wetter than our planet, making them prime targets for future alien-hunting missions.
Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) outlined their stunning find in a scientific paper published Monday.
The planets are 100 light-years from Earth, making them too distant to visit, but possible to study with future advanced space telescopes.
Probes like the European Space Agency’s ARIEL mission, due for launch in 2028, are specially designed to seek signs of life on faraway worlds.
«With the next space telescopes coming up, we will get more information, so it is important to select some targets,» WSU scientist Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch said.
«We have to focus on certain planets that have the most promising conditions for complex life.
«However, we have to be careful to not get stuck looking for a second Earth because there could be planets that might be more suitable for life than ours.»
The team created a «superhabitability criteria», which they lined up against 4,500 known exoplanets – planets outside the Solar System.
Habitability wasn’t defined as definite signs of life, but as hosting conditions that make them ripe for its growth.
The criteria included being up to 10 per cent larger than Earth, with a surface temperature 5C (9F) above that of our own planet and an age of between 5 billion and 8 billions years old (Earth is 4.5 billion years old).
Worlds also had to exist in their star’s habitable zone – defined as the area in which a planet could support water at its surface – and orbit a star that is cooler than our Sun, meaning it has a longer lifespan.
In total, 24 potentially «superhabitable» planets were found that may have conditions better for supporting life than Earth.
None of the planets conclusively met all five of the criteria laid out by scientists, but one met four of them.
Researchers stressed that the results do not mean the 24 worlds definitely host life.
«Habitability does not mean these planets definitely have life, merely the conditions that would be conducive to life,» WSU said in a press release.