Life Outside Earth: Astronomers Discovered 18 Planets Beyond Our Solar System

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Exoplanets continue to amaze the field of Science as they exist beyond our solar system. Thousands have been found in the past two decades, mostly with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Earlier this year, NASA was looking for a special kind of planet; one that’s the same size as Earth which orbits a sun-like star in the habitable zone. The habitable zone means that a planet’s temperature allows liquid water to form oceans — one that can be considered critical for life to exist just like Earth.

Today, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), the Georg August University of Gottingen, together with the Gottingen Observatory, have discovered 18 Earth-sized planets beyond the solar system. The new findings revealed that past observations had overlooked them, which is truly a missed opportunity for NASA and other space agencies.

One of these 18 exoplanets is the smallest so far, but the most significant finding focuses on the other one which is believed to offer conditions friendly to life. According to Sci-tech Daily, researchers re-analyzed a part of the data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope with a new and more advanced method that they developed. The team estimates that if given the chance and time, their new technique has the potential of finding 100 new exoplanets in the Kepler’s entire data set.

Records from NASA’s Kepler showed that today, more than 4000 planets are orbiting stars outside the solar system. Ninety-six percent of these so-called exoplanets are significantly larger than the Earth. Most of them are comparable with the dimensions of gas giants like Neptune or Jupiter. However, the smaller ones are the targets in the search for Earth-like planets because they potentially have a comfortable environment outside the solar system.

This discovery offers a fresher knowledge for NASA as it continues to explore the universe. Last year, the space agency announced that in the name of science, it would never stop creating significant discoveries which can benefit humans. Its main goal is to find a planet similar to Earth, which also has the same qualities that make life possible.

Today, the 18 newly discovered worlds fall into the category of Earth-sized planets. The smallest is only 69 percent smaller than Earth, and the largest is barely more than twice the Earth’s radius.

The team published the findings on the Journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, which eventually sparks hope to aspiring scientists who plan to study the same field. But the team dedicated their discovery to the people. Below are the significant developments of the group, as indicated in their journals.

They discover that most of the new planets orbit their star closer than their previously known planetary companions. While their surfaces likely have temperatures well over 100 degrees Celsius; some even have temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius. But only one of the exoplanets is an exception; it likely orbits its red dwarf star within the so-called habitable zone. In layman’s term, at this favorable distance from its star, this planet may offer conditions under which liquid water could occur on its surface- one of the necessary preconditions for life as we know it on Earth.

Moreover, the habitable zone means that a planet’s temperature allows liquid water to form oceans — one that can be considered critical for life to exist just like Earth. If this condition existed in one of the newly found planets, then it is possible that the Earth is not alone in housing living organisms.

The existence of these planets before is just wishful thinking, and for years, astronomers were convinced they were just out there. Thanks to these researchers and other space explorations, the confirmation of its existence prove how determined humans to know life outside our planet.

But what’s interesting about these 18 planets is that they could not be detected in the Kepler Space Telescope so far. This means that the algorithms used by past studies have failed to identify these exoplanets lurking outside the solar system.

The new method developed by the team opens up greater interplanetary possibilities. In addition to the 517 stars now being investigated, the Kepler mission also offers data sets for thousands of other stars. Researchers believe that their method will enable them to find more than 100 Earth-sized worlds. It will discover and characterize many more multi-planet systems around sun-like stars, some of which will be capable of harboring life.

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