What Does NASA’s Discovery of a Volcano-Riddled Earth-like Planet Mean for Life in Space?
As we continue to advance our technological prowess, we find ourselves peering deeper into the depths of the universe than ever before. Through the combined efforts of NASA‘s TESS satellite and the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope, we’ve been offered a glimpse into what may be countless habitable zones. One such discovery, an Earth-like planet with a unique twist, highlights just how much life-bearing potential the universe holds.
Orbiting a red dwarf star, this planet seems to possess the right conditions for liquid water and even showcases signs of volcanic activity, which many biologists argue played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth. Red dwarf stars, although less luminous than our own sun, are far more abundant, suggesting that the potential for Earth-like, habitable planets could exceed our wildest dreams.
To elaborate on this extraordinary find, Chris Impey, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, breaks down the nuances of the discovery and shares his perspective on the importance of Earth-like planet research for understanding the foundations of life here at home.
“It’s an Earth-like planet with a twist, because it orbits very close to a red dwarf star. Astronomers have started to find large numbers of Earth-like planets, and it’s very exciting because we still only know of life in one location in the universe, this planet, the Earth. And now astronomers are finding many potential habitable locations. This is a particularly exciting discovery because not only might this planet be habitable, have the right temperature for liquid water, but it also appears to have volcanic activity, which biologists think was important in the development of life on Earth. The other important feature of this discovery is that the planet orbits a red dwarf star. We might go and look for Earths around sun-like stars, but there are 100 red dwarfs for every sun-like star. So in terms of habitable real estate in the universe, there are 100 times more Earth-like habitable planets around dim dwarf stars than there are like sun-like stars. This is telling us just how abundant life might be in the universe. And it’s showing us what the payoff is for these facilities that NASA builds that look into deep space for situations like life beyond Earth.”
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