Last week, I received an exciting notification from my News app reporting that 7 Earth-sized exoplanets had been discovered not far from us. This news is said to be the current best chance we have for discovering alien life.
The planets orbit TRAPPIST-1, a dim star about the size of Jupiter that is located 39 light-years away from Earth. According to the international group of astronomers that made the discovery, all of these planets may be capable of supporting life. Out of the 7 planets, 3 of them orbit in the star’s “habitable zone,” which is the right amount of distance to allow for the existence of liquid water. This makes it absolutely possible for 3 of the planets to have bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and oceans on their surfaces.
However, all 7 planets could potentially be housing surface water if they have the right balance of atmospheric conditions. The presence of water would be the best evidence to prove that these planets are capable of sustaining life. Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “With this discovery, we’ve made a giant, accelerated leap forward in the search for habitable worlds, and life on other worlds, potentially speaking.”
Fortunately, TRAPPIST-1 is close enough to Earth that astronomers will be able to continue their research regarding these planets and their atmospheric makeup. They will determine if there are presences of oxygen, ozone, methane and other possible signs of life. In fact, NASA will be launching the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 that will assist in this research. It is the largest telescope to ever be sent into space (at the size of a tennis court), and is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble. “We could see results in the early 2020s,” said Nikole Lewis, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
If all goes as planned, and there is in fact life to be discovered, the confirmation of alien life will be in our lifetime. Fingers crossed that one of the biggest evolutions in space knowledge will be witnessed by us all. In the meantime, I am going to continue binge watching The X-Files in celebration because let’s be honest, I want to believe.