Our galaxy is 120,000 light years in diameter. It contains up to 400 billion stars – and astrophysicists are getting closer to knowing where, in this vastness, to look for other life.One of the more improbable aids for exploring far distant space in the hope of locating extraterrestrial life is a map: a chart that, give or take a few hundred million kilometres, says ‘this is where the aliens live’.Given that any sign or signal sent from prospective neighbours in our Milky Way galaxy could be a billion or so years old by the time we saw it, the map would more likely be telling us where the aliens used to live. But such a map would still be a leap forward for astronomers searching for signs of other life, which is why astrophysicists in Melbourne and the UK are drawing one.The project is a collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire’s Professor Brad Gibson and the director of the Monash Centre for Astrophysics, Professor John Lattanzio, along with Monash University honours student Kate Henkel. It arises from a wider investigation of galaxy evolution, particularly chemical evolution, seeking knowledge about where and when in space and time stars similar to our sun have evolved with the capability of supporting Earth-like planets.The trio’s work is creating a scientific basis not only for pondering the existence of other life, but also for pointing to where it might be

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THE SEARCH NARROWS FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS