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Evaluating galactic habitability using high-resolution cosmological simulations of galaxy formation

  • Duncan Forgan (a1), Pratika Dayal (a2), Charles Cockell (a3) and Noam Libeskind (a4)

Abstract

We present the first model that couples high-resolution simulations of the formation of local group galaxies with calculations of the galactic habitable zone (GHZ), a region of space which has sufficient metallicity to form terrestrial planets without being subject to hazardous radiation. These simulations allow us to make substantial progress in mapping out the asymmetric three-dimensional GHZ and its time evolution for the Milky Way (MW) and Triangulum (M33) galaxies, as opposed to works that generally assume an azimuthally symmetric GHZ. Applying typical habitability metrics to MW and M33, we find that while a large number of habitable planets exist as close as a few kiloparsecs from the galactic centre, the probability of individual planetary systems being habitable rises as one approaches the edge of the stellar disc. Tidal streams and satellite galaxies also appear to be fertile grounds for habitable planet formation. In short, we find that both galaxies arrive at similar GHZs by different evolutionary paths, as measured by the first and third quartiles of surviving biospheres. For the MW, this interquartile range begins as a narrow band at large radii, expanding to encompass much of the Galaxy at intermediate times before settling at a range of 2–13 kpc. In the case of M33, the opposite behaviour occurs – the initial and final interquartile ranges are quite similar, showing gradual evolution. This suggests that Galaxy assembly history strongly influences the time evolution of the GHZ, which will affect the relative time lag between biospheres in different galactic locations. We end by noting the caveats involved in such studies and demonstrate that high-resolution cosmological simulations will play a vital role in understanding habitability on galactic scales, provided that these simulations accurately resolve chemical evolution.

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