Look out, planet Earth, NASA scientists have discovered billions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy that could potentially cater to living species.
These Earth-sized planets orbit around a host star in the minimal area that is neither too hot nor too cold to support life. With temperatures that provide the potential for liquid water, there are some 833 planets that mimic Earth in location and size. In total, scientists have discovered 3,538 planets that could host life. The closest of these planets might be only 12 light years away.
Just because a planet shares Earth-like characteristics does not mean that it has life, however. Geoffrey Marcy, who teaches astronomy at Berkeley says that, “some may have thick atmospheres, making it so hot at the surface that DNA-like molecules would not survive.” He also adds, “we don’t know what range of planet types and their environments are suitable for life.”
Scientists have discovered these planets in habitable zones thanks to the Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009. Unfortunately, NASA announced in August that the telescope has two broken wheels and can no longer complete its mission. Even with an expiration date that was shorter than expected, however, the telescope has still given scientists and amazing new view of the galaxy.
William Borucki, the principal science investigator for the telescope says, “the most exciting discoveries are going to come in the next few years as we analyze this data.” Scientists do not even yet realize the magnitude of this new information and what it means for the hunt for life on other planets.
If nothing else, this information helps future scientists narrow their focus when searching for potentially habitable planets. William Chaplin, who teaches astrophysics at the University of Birmingham says, “to study the stars, one truly explores the galaxy and our place within it. These are data we could only have dreamed of a few years ago.”
There is a long road ahead when it comes to the search for other planets with life, but the Kepler space telescope has allowed scientists to take a step in the right direction. Until then, Earth and its known ability to host life is still considered one in a billion.