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Superhabitable Super-Earths May Be Better Than The Real Thing

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Kepler-62f

Kepler-62f, an exoplanet that is about 40% larger than Earth. It’s located about 1,200 light-years from our solar system in the constellation Lyra. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

It’s hard to look at space-related news without seeing a mention of a newly discovered potentially habitable planet, or the latest calculation of just how many Earth-like planets may exist out there. All sorts of factors contribute to a planet’s habitability, including its location relative to its host star. “Goldilocks” planets are those that orbit close enough to a star to be warm enough to support life and liquid water, but aren’t too close to the sun to frizzle fry life forms. Most of the time, when astronomers, with the help of the Kepler telescope, find potentially habitable planets, they’re about the size and mass of Earth. But a new study suggests that planets bigger than Earth could actually be more conducive to life than Earth.

Scientists call potentially habitable planets double or triple the size of Earth “super-Earths” and have concluded that they may be “superhabitable.” In a paper published in Astrobiology, astronomers suggest that bigger might actually be better in the case of habitability because tectonic activity on larger planets takes longer to happen, which reduces the likelihood of frequent and sudden earthquakes and other disruptive or destructive events. The fewer and less frequent the tectonic shifts, the more stable the planet and the longer life has to get a foothold and start to flourish. Bigger planets also tend to have thicker atmosphere, which can help promote life-enhancing weather systems and shielding against radiation and solar flares.

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Scientists Appeal To Congress To Support Technology To Search for Extraterrestrial Life

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candidate planetsGiven how many candidate planets Kepler has identified, and the recently announced estimate that billions of habitable planets may exist in the Milky Way alone, scientists are understandably excited about the prospect of finding alien life. They’re so excited, in fact, that they made a plea to Congress this week to embark on the next phase of searching for life.

Sara Seager, MIT’s exoplanet expert who came up with her own equation to express the probability of finding extra-terrestrial life, spoke at the “Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond” hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and argued that while we have some technology capable of detecting candidate planets and other life forms, we need more. “This is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to find life on other planets,” she said. “People will look back at us as the ones who found Earth-like worlds.” NASA’s head of astrobiology seconded that, saying that humans finally have the means to gather data about other life forms in the universe, which means it’s incumbent upon us to do so.

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There May Be Habitable Moons Beyond Our Solar System

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exomoonStephen Hawking, like David Attenborough, believes earthlings are in for some tough times ahead. Hawking has said he thinks it’s “almost certain” that some kind of catastrophe like global warming or nuclear war will ravage earth within the next millennium, and thus, it’s “essential” that we start exploring our space colonization options.

To that end, scientists have made some important discoveries concerning potentially habitable exoplanets and dwarf planets nearby, and now believe that some moons outside of the solar system might also be habitable. They believe that the now reassigned Kepler telescope will provide us with data about exomoons that may be conducive to life. A recent study by scientists from McMaster University and the University of Antioquia focuses on what makes these celestial bodies habitable. Heat and atmosphere are important factors, but they’re realizing that perhaps even more important than that is their magnetic fields.

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To The Stars! Astronomers Confirm Star System With Three Potentially Habitable Planets

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planet orbiting red dwarf

Given the approaching end of the Kepler telescope’s reign as the best planet hunter in the galaxy, you might be wondering about the status of the search for habitable planets. After all, NASA’s Kepler telescope, which has recently been reported to have “life” threatening problems, has spotted over 3,216 “candidate planets” since 2009, and 132 confirmed planets. With or without Kepler, that number will keep growing. And now we can add three more to the list.

Canadian astronomer Philip Gregory claimed last year to have identified three habitable “super-Earths” orbiting a red dwarf star called Gliese 667C. Even though the existence of the Gliese 667 system has been known for some time, astronomers were dubious of Gregory’s claims — they believed the planets were “dynamically unstable,” and thus, inhabitable. Now, Gregory can say, “I told you so!”

Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire have been focusing on Gliese 667 and with the aid of new technology, particularly the HARPS-TERRA software and spectra from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) operated by the European Southern Observatory in northern Chile. They have been able to confirm Gregory’s findings.