When I was in 8th grade I had a science teacher. I’ll call him ‘Mr. P.’ As a teacher, and a progressive thinker, Mr. P. was very open minded. Kudos to him in my all-Catholic, somewhat restrictive grammar school where we also had religion classes. I think we were supposed to believe that a Supreme Being created the cosmos in seven days, a woman ate a bad apple which caused the downfall of mankind, and said Supreme Being got mad at everyone and then flooded the earth. Or something like that. Anyway, one day while studying astronomy we (snotty 8th grade brats that we were) asked Mr. P. if he believed in life on other planets. He said something I will never forget. I paraphrase, but it went like this:
“In a vast universe where the earth is akin to one grain of sand on an endless beach, to assume that we humans here on planet earth are the ONLY intelligent life form would be very arrogant indeed.”
One grain of sand on an endless beach? Really??
That is how small and insignificant humankind really are. Well, I took Mr. P’s words to heart and I will never forget them. Hence I have always believed that life on Mars (or some place similar) does indeed exist.
I do not often watch the News, but yesterday I happened to flip it on. Expecting the usual roster of doom and gloom, which they definitely included, I was nonetheless delighted to discover (drum roll please… Tah tah DAH!!!) that, as of yesterday, NASA scientists have verified the existence of 1,284 new exoplanets that were discovered by the Kepler telescope.
What is an ‘exoplanet’, you ask? (I did not know either.) Apparently it is a planet that orbits around its own sun and stars outside of our solar system. NASA, using the Kepler telescope, has now discovered 1, 284 of them!
This research began in around 2009 and since then Kepler has identified some 4000 potential planets. The problem, however, was that scientists always needed to do more research to discover whether or not these were actually planets. Until now, those potential planets had been verified by ground-based measurements (which were slow and less effective) in order to ensure that what the telescope saw was actually a planet and not an ‘impostor.’ An ‘impostor’ could be another object, such as a small star, or it could be two stars in orbit around each other in what’s called a binary star pair. So the research was tricky.
The problem was that manually verifying these planets took a really long time. Now, however, a new method has been created by one Dr. Timothy Morton, a Princeton research scholar.
Morton’s method is based on previous techniques that identify existing knowledge of how common binary stars are, to rule them out among other data gathered from Kepler. But unlike earlier techniques, Morton’s computation method is fully automated — therefore the team only spends a few minutes on each planetary candidate. According to Dr. Morton’s research, the probability of the 1,284 planets being ‘real’ is greater than 99 percent.
Imagine it! Twelve hundred new planets out there, all in a completely different solar system! But the news gets even better.
In this group of validated planets, NASA reports that nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth. Of those 550 planets, 9 of them orbit in the habitable zone of their own sun. This is so exciting, because NASA is saying the distance between those planets and their suns would allow each planet a surface temperature to host liquid water. Water is, as we know, the main source of life!
Ironic, isn’t it? Just when we lose David Bowie, NASA makes a startling discovery that would have pleased Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders from Mars very much.
But seriously, nine planets, people!
It gets better. NASA further states that astronomers also now know of 21 additional exoplanets that are less than twice the size of Earth, and also may have some of the conditions for life, the same as Earth!
Remember, you heard it here first. 🙂
Ahh, Mr. P. You were never very far off 🙂
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