Understanding habitability and using that knowledge to locate the nearest habitable planet may be crucial for our survival as a species, writes Dr Charley Lineweaver and PhD student Aditya Chopra of the Australian National University in the Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Lineweaver and Chopra reviewed current research examining environments where life is found on Earth and the environments thought to exist on other planets.
Since the first discovery of a planet orbiting another star was made in 1995, the number of exoplanets has skyrocketed to more than 750. While a small handful of these planets are known to be 'Earth-like', astronomers are a long way from knowing whether they can sustain life.
"Determining whether these planets are habitable has become the new holy grail of astronomy," says Lineweaver. "It's probably one of the biggest, most confusing, and important issues that planetary scientists are going to have to deal with in the next 10 to 20 years."