The oceans are warming and we’re running out of oil to power our homes and cars. If humans maintain their “business as usual” attitude, the Earth will become a pretty harsh place to live over the next 20 years.
That’s why a recent NASA discovery of over 50 new planets that could support life is a particularly bright spot in the otherwise gloomy forecast for the human race.
On Wednesday, NASA scientists reported that “the Kepler mission has discovered 1,235 possible planets, including 54 in the ‘Goldilocks range’ — just far enough from their stars to be neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water” (LA Times).
“The fact that we’ve found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy,” said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center, the mission’s science principal investigator. “We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water.”
The Kepler mission was specially designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets.
“In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today’s reality,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Kepler, a space telescope, looks for planet signatures by measuring tiny decreases in the brightness of stars caused by planets crossing in front of them. This is known as a transit.
Since transits of planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars occur about once a year and require three transits for verification, it is expected to take three years to locate and verify Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars.
Image Credit: NASA