Thursday, January 8, 2015

Meet Kepler 438b, the most Earth-like exo-planet discovered so far

And they are looking too?
Exo-planets are very new to humans. The first one ever found by mankind, 51 Pegasi b, was only declared in 1995. Two decades later, we have discovered more than 1000 verified planets orbiting other stars. The more we look, the more we find planets that increasingly resemble our Earth: small-sized, rocky, similar distances to their respective stars as Earth is to the Sun, same temperature range... Are we getting closer to finding the first signs of primitive life on those distant worlds? The trend looks promising as for all the newly learnt knowledge, humans have just searched a super-minuscule area of this galaxy, which is likely made up of 200 billion stars. And there might be 200 billion other galaxies in our observable universe. Could life be exclusive to Earth?

The small size of Kepler 438b makes it likely to be a rocky world, while its proximity to its star puts it in the “Goldilocks” or habitable zone where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow.

A rocky surface and flowing water are two of the most important factors scientists look for when assessing a planet’s chances of being hospitable to life.
The scientists do not know if the planets have atmospheres, but if they are cloaked in insulating layers of gas, the mean temperatures of Kepler 438b and 442b are expected to be about 60 and zero degrees Celsius respectively.
In the meantime, scientists plan to look for other, indirect signs, that a planet may be well-suited for life. Kipping is searching through the Kepler data for hints that some planets have moons, which can improve their odds of being habitable. Our own moon stabilises Earth’s tilt, making the temperatures far less erratic than they would be otherwise. Alien planets that share a solar system with a gas giant like Jupiter are also interesting, because the vast size of the planet acts as a shield against devastating asteroid and comet impacts.

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