The history books are being re-written as we speak. Not only have we found the first planet orbiting a distant Star in another Solar System, but to date we have confirmed over 3,000 of these Exoplanets. And that’s just in the small section of space that we are searching. A number of these planets are potentially habitable and may sustain life. With developments in technology, we will soon find out if there really is alien life in the stars.
So far, out of the 3704 Exoplanets discovered, there are 54 confirmed potentially habitable earth like planets, and 40 potentially habitable confirmed Exomoons. These moons are circling planets that resemble Jupiter, while the habitable Exoplanets range from rocky worlds half the size of earth, to Super- Earths, up to 9 times the size of our home planet.
NASA’s Spitzer and Kepler Space Telescopes have been doing most of the work, analysing the light from stars in a small section of space for dimming. From this star-dimming, scientists are able to confirm Exoplanets orbiting the star, as they pass in front of it. The James Webb Space Telescope due to launch in 2018 will orbit the sun over a million miles out in space, past the Moon. This will allow it to analyse the atmospheres of earth-like planets using Spectroscopy. It will even be able to take pictures of these worlds.
Scientists will be looking for the signatures of life in the atmospheres of these Super Earths. If they find things like Water and Oxygen, this may indicate plant life. If they find a strange abundance of certain chemicals, that are out of the norm, this will be further proof of life creating these chemicals. An example would be the Methane present in Earths atmosphere, produced by Bacteria and also by the burning of Fossil Fuels. If there are any intelligent species out there capable of building a civilisation, we will find them with this method.
So far the closest Exoplanet to Earth lies in the Proxima Centauri System which is 4.25 light years from earth. A mission has been planned for the near future to send a fleet of nano-bots approximately 1 inch in diameter toward the planet at 2/5ths the speed of light. These tiny probes will be equipped with cameras and other instruments capable of beaming back data to Earth upon arrival. The journey is estimated to take only around 20 years from launch. The planet itself, Proxima Centrauri B , lies in the habitable, or ‘Goldilocks’ zone of its Star. Not too hot (like Venus) and not too cold (like Mars) but just the right temperature to hold liquid water, and sustain life. Who knows what kind of life we may find?
A theoretical mission to a Super Earth in the near future is depicted in this Documentary I have found on You Tube, if you’d like to research into this field further.