So we have all heard the exciting and dramatic news NASA revealed to the public this past Wednesday. The announcement of 7 exoplanets the size of earth orbiting one of our closest stars has set all of our imaginations on fire!
NASA explained that 3 of those exoplanets are in the “Goldilocks zone” which means they could potentially sustain life. Are we a step closer to finding some alien neighbors? The exciting reality is that this is absolutely a giant step in that direction! But let’s separate our fantasies from the reality.
Humans have always sought out new horizons and desired to find out who and what is out of our immediate surroundings
Explorers once traipsed the earth looking for exotic cultures to trade with and learn from. And sadly, to conquer and colonize.
The modern version of this is our gaze up into the heavens. Are we alone in the universe? Trapped here, upon our beautiful spinning ball called planet Earth, we could only speculate.
We created telescopes to gaze into the heavens and wondered what exactly we were looking at. Astronomers and astrologers were one and the same. Without any facts or technology, we found the whole universe to be mystical, our experiences magical.
Throughout the past century, we have come a long way in a very short time
Technology moved at lightening speed. We visited the moon and sent probes deep into outer space. Anecdotes about aliens and UFOs abounded. But as rational creatures, we still sought the truth.
Last year the European Southern Observatory made some interesting findings. When they observed one of our closest stars, TRAPPIST-1, the saw promising shadows. Such shadows are always explained as planetary bodies.
NASA made follow-up closer observations with their space-based telescope Spitzer. They found that 3 of the 7 exoplanets were in the prized Goldilocks zone. Could they contain life?
The Goldilocks zone is an orbital radii range around a star that could hypothetically support life
Any planetary body in that zone could theoretically contain alien life. What makes the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets exciting is that they are proof of our statistical expectations.
Kepler Space mission data analysis reveals there could be as many as 40 billion habitable planets just in our own galaxy. Statistically, scientists believe that aliens should and do exist. That we are finding such places they could dwell means we are a giant step closer to contact.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the 3 Goldilocks zone exoplanets contain intelligent life
NASA seeks intelligent life forms by scanning outer space for radio waves. No such waves come from these planets.
But we know they could potentially have some kind of life form, however microscopic or primitive. For a planet to sustain life it needs 3 key ingredients. Carbon, liquid-water and a greenhouse atmosphere. We could find out if life exists if we detected methane gasses in the exoplanet’s atmosphere.
Finding out if these planets contain this life is the next step. But we won’t be able to go there to find out anytime soon. Despite TRAPPIST-1 being one of our closest stars, it is still around 40 light years away. This translates to 378 trillion km away. With our current space technology, it would take 44 million years to get there.
TRAPPIST-1 is in the Aquarius constellation, and it is actually quite tiny. It is an ultra-cool dwarf star that is only marginally larger than Jupiter. Its solar system is tiny. The entire 7 exoplanets orbit within a distance from their star closer than Mercury is from our Sun.
We live in exciting times indeed!
YOUTUBE – NASA: