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The galactic habitable zone in elliptical galaxies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2012

Falguni Suthar
Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
Christopher P. McKay*
Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA


The concept of a Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ) was introduced for the Milky Way galaxy a decade ago as an extension of the earlier concept of the Circumstellar Habitable Zone. In this work, we consider the extension of the concept of a GHZ to other types of galaxies by considering two elliptical galaxies as examples, M87 and M32. We argue that the defining feature of the GHZ is the probability of planet formation which has been assumed to depend on the metallicity. We have compared the metallicity distribution of nearby stars with the metallicity of stars with planets to document the correlation between metallicity and planet formation and to provide a comparison to other galaxies. Metallicity distribution, based on the [Fe/H] ratio to solar, of nearby stars peaks at [Fe/H]≈−0.2 dex, whereas the metallicity distribution of extrasolar planet host stars peaks at [Fe/H]≈+0.4 dex. We compare the metallicity distribution of extrasolar planet host stars with the metallicity distribution of the outer star clusters of M87 and M32. The metallicity distribution of stars in the outer regions of M87 peaks at [Fe/H]≈−0.2 dex and extends to [Fe/H]≈+0.4 dex, which seems favourable for planet formation. The metallicity distribution of stars in the outer regions of M32 peaks at [Fe/H]≈−0.2 dex and extends to a much lower [Fe/H]. Both elliptical galaxies met the criteria of a GHZ. In general, many galaxies should support habitable zones.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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