International Journal of Astrobiology

The evolution of habitable zones during stellar lifetimes and its implications on the search for extraterrestrial life

D.R. Underwood a1, B.W. Jones a1 and P.N. Sleep a1
a1 Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK e-mail:

Article author query
underwood d   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
jones b   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
sleep p   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


A stellar evolution computer model has been used to determine changes in the luminosity L and effective temperature Te of single stars during their time on the main sequence. The range of stellar masses investigated was from 0.5 to 1.5 times that of the Sun, each with a mass fraction of metals (metallicity, Z) from 0.008 to 0.05. The extent of each star's habitable zone (HZ) has been determined from its values of L and Te. These stars form a reference framework for other main sequence stars. All of the 104 main sequence stars known to have one or more giant planets have been matched to their nearest stellar counterpart in the framework, in terms of mass and metallicity, hence closely approximating their HZ limits. The limits of HZ, for each of these stars, have been compared to their giant planet(s)'s range of strong gravitational influence. This allows a quick assessment as to whether Earth-mass planets could exist in stable orbits within the HZ of such systems, both presently and at any time during the star's main sequence lifetime. A determination can also be made as to the possible existence of life-bearing satellites of giant planets, which orbit within HZs. Results show that about half of the 104 known extrasolar planetary systems could possibly have been housing an Earth-mass planet in HZs during at least the past billion years, and about three-quarters of the 104 could do so for at least a billion years at some time during their main sequence lives. Whether such Earth-mass planets could have formed is an urgent question now being investigated by others, with encouraging results.

(Received January 19 2004)

Key Words: Earth-mass planets; extrasolar planetary systems; extraterrestrial life; habitable zones; orbital stability; stellar evolution.