Earth News Journal 29: Planets Like Earth in Galaxy

The visionary revelation of finding another life-compatible planet besides our Earth has become even more likely, thanks to a recent analysis conducted by Erik Petigura, a graduate student from the University of California, Berkeley.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this fascinating study has extrapolated data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft mission. Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission was tasked with measuring what “fraction of sunlike stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets.” Kepler has recorded an astonishing amount of data – approximately 150,000 stars in far-off constellations Cygnus and Lyra have been monitored for life-bearing planets.

Unfortunately, due to a mechanical malfunction in the winter of 2012, Kepler will no longer be spouting new exo-planet information. Although according to Dr. Natalie Batalha, a Kepler leader from the NASA Ames Research Center, “[Kepler] has sent back so much data that there is still a whole year’s worth of results left to analyze.”

Astronomers conclude that roughly 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets could exist in the galaxy, with one out of every five sunlike stars containing a planet the size of Earth in its respective Goldilocks zone – a region far enough away (but not too far) from its star in which surface temperatures could sustain liquid water, and ultimately additional life forms on the planet itself.

“It seems that the universe produces plentiful real estate for life that somehow resembles life on Earth,” reported Petigura, the study’s lead author.

In order to mimic the life conditions found on planet Earth, the mass of the exo-planet must be rocky, as opposed to a swirling ball of ice or gas. Fortunately, “there is reason to believe, from recent observations of other worlds, that at least some Earth-size planets, if not all of them, are indeed rocky.”

Scientists are confident that Kepler has provided a feasible candidate for Earth’s nearest twin – Earth 2.0. Some suppose this life-friendly exo-planet may reside only 12 light-years away – “A star visible to the naked eye,” Petigura added.

Expert space-enthusiasts across the country are excited by the prospects. “This is the most important work I’ve ever been involved with,” remarked Geoffrey Marcy, another member of the University of California, Berkeley. “This is it. Are there inhabitable Earths out there?”

Reflection

I find the research in discovering other Earth-like planets across the galaxy absolutely intriguing. Planetary science has always astonished me; as an avid star-gazer, I can’t help but contemplate life beyond our own stratosphere. Although I am of Christian Catholic faith, I do not believe that Earth is singular in being the only planet in all light-years of space to contain life. To assume such an exception seems oddly narrow-minded – perhaps the life forms appear differently than human beings do – perhaps we truly are the only Homo sapiens. But life exists in variety, and to discount life existing on other planetary bodies discounts the creative liberties of life design. I sometimes speculate that, if we were to discover another life-sustaining planet as our own, would we offer our intelligences, or would we remain purposefully isolated, insisting our Earth-life is superior? If astronomers found other life beyond Earth, would the public wish to know?

Overbye, Dennis. “Far-Off Planets Like the Earth Dot the Galaxy.” The New York Times. N.p., 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 7 Jan. 2014.

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