June 5 (UPI) -- The prospects for finding young Earth-like planets are better than scientists thought, according to a new study published this week in the Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers at the University of Sheffield, in Britain, surveyed the makeup of groups of young stars in the Milky Way and compared what they found to previous observations and the predictions of popular theories.
Their analysis revealed a larger-than-expected population of sun-like stars, suggesting the number of young Earth-like stars in the galaxy is greater than previously estimated.
When Earth-like planets are in their infancy, they're rocky but not all that solid. Young solar systems are chaotic places, and a plethora of collisions ensure Earth-like planets look more like magma ocean planets. Peppered by space rocks and small planets, the surfaces of these planets remain perpetually molten.
The latest research could help scientists locate these magma ocean planets and study what the Earth's early evolution might have looked like.
"These magma ocean planets are easier to detect near stars like the sun, which are twice as heavy as the average mass star," Sheffield astrophysicist Richard Parker said in a news release. "These planets emit so much heat that we will be able to observe the glow from them using the next generation of infrared telescopes."
"The locations where we would find these planets are so-called 'young moving groups' which are groups of young stars that are less than 100 million years old -- which is young for a star," Parker said. "However, they typically only contain a few tens of stars each and previously it was difficult to determine whether we had found all of the stars in each group because they blend into the background of the Milky Way galaxy."
Scientists were able to make out the makeup of these groups using the Gaia space observatory, which has been tirelessly cataloging stars for the last several years.
In followup studies, scientists plan to use computer simulations to better understand how young moving groups form and evolve.