Exoplanets: is humanity alone in the universe? (science video)
The number of known exoplanets surpassed 5,000 on March 21st, 2022. Sara Seager, an MIT astrophysicist and planetary scientist, joins Chrissy Newton to talk about how she deals with politics in the scientific community and whether or not she believes humans are alone in the cosmos.
The discovery of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, has expanded our understanding of the universe and the potential for life beyond Earth. In recent years, the number of known exoplanets has increased dramatically, thanks to the efforts of various space-based telescopes and ground-based observatories. As a result, scientists can now analyze the data of thousands of exoplanets, looking for signs of habitability and the potential for life.
One of the primary goals of exoplanet research is to find “Earth-like” planets, which are defined as planets that are similar in size and composition to Earth and orbit within the “habitable zone” of their star. The habitable zone, also known as the “Goldilocks zone,” is the region around a star where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist, which is considered a key ingredient for life as we know it.
As the number of known exoplanets increase, scientists have been able to identify a growing number of exoplanets that meet the criteria for being Earth-like, and we found some of them in the habitable zone of their star. This is an exciting development as it increases the chances that there may be other planets in the universe that have conditions that could support life.
Some exoplanets that have been discovered are in the “super-Earth” category, meaning that they are bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, those planets have a higher potential to keep an atmosphere, a sign that they might have more favorable conditions to support life.
It is important to note that the discovery of an Earth-like exoplanet, or even one in the habitable zone, is not proof that life exists on that planet. The next step would be to study the composition of its atmosphere, if possible, and search for biosignatures (indicators of past or present life), but currently, we don’t have the technology to do that for exoplanets that are far away from us.
As the number of known exoplanets increases, scientists are finding a growing number of exoplanets that meet the criteria for being Earth-like, and with conditions that could support life. This is a very exciting development, and it raises the possibility that humans may not be alone in the cosmos. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the discovery of an Earth-like exoplanet is not proof of the existence of life and the next step would be to study its atmosphere and search for biosignatures. The search for life beyond Earth is still ongoing and will require more research, observations, and the development of new technology.