Scientists all over the world have spent the last decades combing the skies for planets outside the Solar System – or in short, exoplanets. Their challenge to discover a relevant number of Earth-like planets seems to be finally met.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope allowed astronomers to spot extrasolar planets and even figure out some of their features. So far, the Kepler team has confirmed the finding of over 2,300 exoplanets, over a thousand of which come from a freshly discovered batch. Scientists have identified 20 as the most habitable. They appear to have a rocky surface and orbit their star at a comfortable distance, which makes them neither too cold nor too hot.
However, think it through before you purchase your space tourist round-trip ticket for a meet-and-greet with aliens. Most Kepler Earth-like planets lie hundreds to thousands of light-years away. A manned spacecraft would take millions of years to reach the closest of them.
Also, “habitable” does not necessarily mean “inhabited”. As you can see in the video below, the conditions for life can be quite demanding.
Finally, life may even come in non-sociable forms. As planetary scientist Sara Seager says, “We’re not necessarily talking about little green people waving their hands at us. Most likely when we see signs of life we won’t know if it’s created by intelligent life or just by single cell bacteria or a slime covered world.”
Sofie Strøm Toustrup
Silvia Kuna Ballero