Another Earth? Scientists Discover Planet Possibly Harboring Life

By Danny C. | DCPeriodical | 01/14/19 |

Scientists at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society officially announced the discovery of an earth-sized planet in a distant solar system on January 6th.

The planet, designated TOI 700 d, is virtually the same size as Earth, and orbits its star at relatively the same distance our planet orbits our star, well within what’s known as ‘the habitable zone” — where conditions make life possible.

What’s more, the planet’s star, much like ours, is quite calm. In other words, unlike other earth-like planets discovered which have stars shooting out blasts of radiation, making it unlikely life could survive on their planets, at least life comparable to life on Earth, TOI 700 d’s star is “absolutely quiet,” according to Emily Gilbert, a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Chicago:

“We had 11 [months] of TESS data and I didn’t see a single flare. The star is a little bit older so it’s kind of calmed down a bit over its lifetime, we expect.”

-Space.com.

Unlike Earth, TOI 700 d is thought to be tidally locked. Meaning, like our moon, the planet doesn’t spin on an axis. One side always faces its sun while the other is perpetually stuck in night time.

But from there, the uncertainties start to pile up. In particular, the scientists working on TOI 700 d want one crucial measurement: its mass. That number would clarify how likely the planet is to be a rocky world like ours, rather than a gassy body that looks like a small sibling of Neptune.

Scientific American.

More uncertainty lies in the crucial knowledge of whether or not TOI 700 d has an atmosphere. Without one, life on the planet is likely impossible.

“If you have just a rock, no one can live there,” said Gilbert.

But to reiterate, whether or not an atmosphere exists is anybody’s guess.

“We really want to understand the question, could life form on these planets around very small stars? And this is kind of a nice big step towards that goal,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a top astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

“We’re nowhere near it yet and we’re talking, probably, decades, if not much, much longer to answer this question. but we’re making steps towards arguably one of the biggest questions in science — and not just science but philosophy, religion and a lot of other things.”

Further testing and examination of TOI 700 d and the solar system it resides in will continue this summer, when NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, will once again point in its direction to gather data.

“We’re going to have a lot more data,” said Rodriguez, “and we’re just starting to peel the orange and figure out what’s going on with the system.”


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