There’s No Such Thing As A ‘Habitable Super-Earth’
What they find is that the transition from “rocky” world to “gaseous” world occurs at just twice the Earth’s mass. If you’re more that twice the mass of Earth and you receive the same amount of energy from your star, you’ll be able to hold onto a substantial hydrogen-and-helium envelope of gas, creating an atmospheric pressure that’s hundreds or even thousands of times as great as what we have on Earth’s surface. The hope that Super-Earth worlds would be Earth-like is shattered, and we can safely put Super-Earths, Mini-Neptunes and Neptune-like worlds into the same overall category.
It was quite a surprise when we started discovering all the exoplanets that were out there. While there’s a big gap between a world like Earth and a world like Uranus or Neptune in our Solar System – 17 times the mass and 4 times the radius – most of the worlds out there fall in between these two types. Super-Earths and Mini-Neptunes are the most common. But it turns out that what we’re calling a “Super-Earth” is a total misnomer! These worlds may be larger than Earth, but they’re much more like Uranus or Neptune than they are like our own. They have big gas envelopes surrounding them, and can even hold on to their young hydrogen and helium. The only way out is to boil the atmosphere away, and if you do, you’ve got a rocky core that’s close enough to its star to be roasted.
What would happen if the crew of the Starship Enterprise handed over the controls to our scientists and engineers? It turns out many are avid Star Trek fans with lengthy itineraries in mind.
What is perhaps the most famous Star Trek planet was placed by creator Gene Roddenberry in a real star system: 40 Eridani. This trinary system of three dwarf stars, about 16 light-years from Earth, could play host to exoplanets; none have been detected there so far. The most massive is 40 Eridani A, chosen as Vulcan’s sun.
An icy “M-class” (Star Trek’s term for “Earth-like”) moon of a much larger planet—a gas giant—that is home to soft-spoken humanoids with blue skin, white hair and stylish antennae. In our solar system, gas giants play host to icy moons, such as Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus, that possess subsurface oceans locked inside shells of ice. Our missions are searching for lifeforms that might exist in these cold, dark habitats.
Another Trek M-class planet known for its engineered tropical climate and its welcoming humanoid population. The planet is said to orbit a binary, or double, star system—in Star Trek fan lore, Epsilon Ceti, a real star system some 79 light-years from Earth. The first discovery of a planet around a binary was Kepler-16b, which is cold, gaseous and Saturn-sized.
4. “Shore Leave” planet, Omicron Delta region
This is another amusement park of a planet, where outlandish characters are manufactured in underground factories straight from the crew members’ imaginations. In real life, astronauts aboard the International Space Station print out plastic tools and containers with their own 3-D printer.
“Star Trek: Into Darkness” finds Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy fleeing from chalk-skinned aliens through a red jungle. Red or even black vegetation could exist on real planets that orbit cooler, redder stars, an adaptation meant to gather as much light for photosynthesis as possible. An example may be Kepler-186f, a planet only 10 percent larger than Earth in diameter. At high noon, the surface of this planet would look something like dusk on Earth.
6. Wolf 359
A star best known in the Star Trek universe as the site of a fierce battle in which a multitude of “Star Trek: Next Generation” ships are defeated by the Borg. But Wolf 359 is a real star, one of the closest to Earth at a distance of 7.8 light-years. Wolf 359 is also a likely observational target for the Kepler space telescope in the upcoming Campaign 14 of its “K2” mission.
7. Eminiar VII/Vendikar
These two planets are neighbors, sharing a star system. So, of course, they’ve been at war for centuries. While we have no signs of interplanetary war, multiple rocky worlds have been discovered orbiting single stars. A cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1 is orbited by three Earth-size planets; two have a chance of being the right temperature for liquid water, with possible Earth-like atmospheres.
The planets Romulus and Remus are home to the Romulan Empire (ancient Rome, anyone?), although Remus seemed to have gotten the raw end of the deal. Remus is tidally locked, one face always turned to its star. Tidally locked worlds might well be a real thing, with many possible candidates discovered with our Kepler space telescope. The habitable portion of the surface of such planets might be confined to a band between the day and night sides called the “terminator zone”—a.k.a. the twilight zone.
9. Janus VI
A rocky world lacking an atmosphere, perhaps similar to Mars. While humans must maintain an artificial underground environment to survive, the innards of the planet are a comfortable home to an alien species known as the “Horta.” Their rock-like biochemistry is based on silicon, rather than carbon, inspiring us to imagine the many forms life might take in the universe.
In the Star Trek universe, Earth is home to Starfleet Headquarters; the real Earth is, at least so far, the only life-bearing world we know. No true Earth analogs have been discovered among the real exoplanets detected so far. But a new generation of space telescopes, designed to capture direct images of exoplanets in Earth’s size range, might one day reveal an alternative “pale blue dot.”
Learn more about exoplanets at: exoplanets.nasa.gov
Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.
Proxima b And The Worlds Around TRAPPIST-1 Might Be Habitable, After All
“The major point we should all take home is that yes, life arose on Earth, but it’s foolish to demand that a planet or its conditions be “Earth-like” in the search for habitability. So long as there exists energy, liquid water and long-term stable conditions, life may well be possible. The most common type of star in the Universe isn’t a Sun-like star, but rather are low-mass stars that emit only a tiny fraction of the Sun’s energy. Their worlds will be vastly different than our own, yet may house life all the same. It’s up to us to look in the right way, and to keep our minds open to potential surprises. We’re only at the beginning of this journey.”
When it comes to the habitability of a planet, there are a lot of assumptions that we make. All of them boil down to, at some level or other, how Earth-like this world is. This is reflected in our language: terms like “super-Earth” or “habitable zone” showcase this inherent bias. Yet the vast majority of stars that are out there aren’t Sun-like, and the vast majority of worlds with life on them may not be very Earth-like at all. Rather than consider whether a world has a large Moon, rotates on its axis, has tectonic plates or is susceptible to flares from its star, we should be focusing on the actual conditions present there. The speculation we engage in now, given our insufficient information, may result in us closing ourselves off to not only the possibility that life may exist elsewhere, but that Earth-like life may, in fact, be the rarity.
(Aka it’s 2:30 am and I have entirely lost control of my life)
Alright people, I’ll get right to it. I
think I know whereabouts Ford was when the portal opened to bring him back.
I’ve just spent the last few hours sciencing the shit out of what we know so
far, and I’m gonna share it with you.
I know I’m a little late to
the party on this one, by while doing a little research earlier this evening I
found out that the symbols around the edge of the portal are actually the
symbols for the Behenian fixed stars.
These are fifteen stars, used for magical and alchemical purposes back in the
Now, there are sixteen symbols around the
edge of the portal, but I figure that, if this portal is designed to be used
both ways, there should probably be a ‘home’ symbol, right? So my guess is
that that last unknown symbols stands for our own sun, Sol.
Now, when the portal stabilises and Ford finally does come back
through, some of those symbols are lit up, like in the top image. Why is this
Because if you have six points of
reference in space, you can calculate the midpoint to get a destination.
But what exactly does that mean? These planets were previously seen by our spacecraft, but have now been verified. Kepler’s candidates require verification to determine if they are actual planets, and not another object, such as a small star, mimicking a planet. This announcement more than doubles the number of verified planets from Kepler.
Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system more than two decades ago, researchers have resorted to a laborious, one-by-one process of verifying suspected planets. These follow-up observations are often time and resource intensive. This latest announcement, however, is based on a statistical analysis method that can be applied to many planet candidates simultaneously.
They employed a technique to assign each Kepler candidate a planet-hood probability percentage – the first such automated computation on this scale, as previous statistical techniques focused only on sub-groups within the greater list of planet candidates identified by Kepler.
What that means in English: Planet candidates can be thought of like bread crumbs. If you drop a few large crumbs on the floor, you can pick them up one by one. But, if you spill a whole bag of tiny crumbs, you’re going to need a broom. This statistical analysis is our broom.
The Basics: Our Kepler space telescope measures the brightness of stars. The data will look like an EKG showing the heart beat. Whenever a planet passes in front of its parent star a viewed from the spacecraft, a tiny pulse or beat is produced. From the repeated beats, we can detect and verify the existence of Earth-size planets and learn about their orbits and sizes. This planet-hunting technique is also known as the Transit Method.
The number of planets by size for all known exoplanets, planets that orbit a sun-like star, can be seen in the above graph. The blue bars represent all previously verified exoplanets by size, while the orange bars represent Kepler’s 1,284 newly validated planets announced on May 10.
While our original Kepler mission has concluded, we have more than 4 years of science collected that produced a remarkable data set that will be used by scientists for decades. The spacecraft itself has been re-purposed for a new mission, called K2 – an extended version of the original Kepler mission to new parts of the sky and new fields of study.
The above visual shows all the missions we’re currently using, and plan to use, in order to continue searching for signs of life beyond Earth.
The image above is just an illustration, but don’t let that dampen your excitement too much — because it’s illustrating something really awesome.
On Wednesday, a study in the journal Nature announced that scientists have directly observed the formation of a planet for the very first time.
When a new star is born, it creates a disk full of gas and dust — the stuff of planetary formation. But it’s hard to catch alien stars in the process of planetary baby-making, because the same dust that creates planets helps obscure these distant solar systems from our sight. We’ve found young planets and old ones alike, but none of them have actually been in the process of forming — until now.
Three new exoplanets in a star system just 40 light-years away from Earth have captured the attention of astronomers. They say it might be the perfect place to search for signs of life. The most exciting part is that the planets are about Earth-sized, which
makes them good candidates for hosting life. They’re also orbiting a
really dim star, which is super helpful for astronomers.
Venus, not Earth, may have been our Solar System’s best chance at life
“Venus’ atmosphere was very thin at the beginning, comparable to the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere today. Earth, on the other hand, was very different, with lots of methane, ammonia, water vapor, hydrogen and virtually no oxygen at all. And the Sun was so faint compared to what it is now: less than 80% as luminous as it is today. With all that in mind, perhaps — if we rewound the Solar System to the very beginning and started it again — the ingredients for life would come together on Venus far more easily than on Earth? And perhaps early Venus was teeming with life, while things on Earth were barely getting started?”
If you were to rewind the Solar System to the very beginning, with only imperceptibly different initial conditions, how often would Earth emerge looking like it does today: teeming with life? And how often would the other worlds – Venus or even Mars – emerge overflowing with stable, long-term life either instead or in addition to Earth? While we’ve often assumed that Earth had the right conditions for a likely life-rich outcome, we’re quite possibly biased by where we’ve come of age, and by the fact that we only know our own Solar System in detail. But as exoplanet data continues to improve and pour in, we have a whole world of other possibilities we should remember to consider.
It’s an unsettling thought, but aliens could easily spot Earth before humans spot them. In a new research paper,
astronomers identified 82 other stars around the sun that have a clear
view of Earth. If any of those stars are host to planets with life,
someone else in the universe may have already seen that humans are here. The researchers assume that alien life could theoretically figure out the same way to find exoplanets that we have.