Habitable Zones


In astronomy and astrobiology, the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ), or simply the habitable zone, colloquially known as the Goldilocks zone, is the region around a star within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at their surfaces. The bounds of the CHZ are calculated using the known requirements of Earth’s biosphere, its position in the Solar System and the amount of radiant energy it receives from the Sun. Due to the importance of liquid water to life as it exists on Earth, the nature of the CHZ and the objects within is believed to be instrumental in determining the scope and distribution of earth-like extraterrestrial life and intelligence.


Since the concept of the CHZ was first presented in 1953, numerous planets have now been discovered in the CHZ. Most such planets, being super-Earths or gas giants, are more massive than Earth, because such planets are easier to detect. On November 4, 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy. 11 billion of these estimated planets may be orbiting sun-like stars. The nearest such planet may be 12 light-years away, according to the scientists. The CHZ is also of particular interest to the emerging field of natural satellite habitability, because planetary-mass moons in the CHZ might outnumber planets.

In subsequent decades, the CHZ concept began to be challenged as a primary criterion for life. Since the discovery of evidence for extraterrestrial liquid water, substantial quantities of it are now believed to occur outside the circumstellar habitable zone. Sustained by other energy sources, such as tidal heating or radioactive decay or pressurized by other non-atmospheric means, the basic conditions for water-dependent life may be found even in interstellar space, on rogue planets or their moons. In addition, other circumstellar zones, where non-water solvents favorable to hypothetical life based on alternative biochemistries could exist in liquid form at the surface, have been proposed.

Leave a Reply