NASA’s dawn spacecraft to discover new worlds

Human space exploration takes its next leap forward.

The newest research on planetary discovery yielded interesting results involving the habitability status of eight planets. Researchers have statistically determined that these planets are in range in what is known as the goldilocks region. This  region would be able to support liquid water on their surfaces.

Astronomers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have been working for a year on a study concerning eight potential habitable planets in the goldilocks region. Among the eight, two of them seem particularly promising. Both Kepler-483b and Kepler-442b have been singled out for their comparison to our own planet, Earth. Their sizes are relatively similar and their proximity to their star allows for significant solar radiation. The size of these planets are particularly important, as it is a determinant for its chances of being rocky like Earth. A bigger planet, or a massive one like Jupiter, tends to be not rocky and may not be able to hold any liquid on its surface.

Researchers have been at this study for quite sometime. They first identified these candidates during a Kepler mission. However, the ability confirmation of important information, such as size and whether or not they were even planets, came only after the researchers used a computer program called BLENDER. The following year, researchers used different methods of studying the planets such as spectrometry and optics studies in order to learn more about their composition. Spectrometry involves a wide range of techniques of chemical analysis, and is used to determine the characteristics and properties of substances.

Kepler-442b is one of the planets most similar to Earth. It goes around its sun once every 112 days and is about one-third larger than Earth. Researchers calculated that the chances of it having rocky characteristics like that of Earth is about 60 per cent, but receiving only about two-thirds as much sunlight from its sun. Finalizing the statistical analysis for Kepler-442b puts the planet’s probability of being habitable at 97 per cent.

Kepler-438b is the second planet considered to be similar to Earth. It has a greater chance of having rocky characteristics at 70 per per cent, but receives only 40 per cent more light than Earth. The total analysis for this planet lies at 70 per cent chance of being habitable.

Kepler-438b’s lower statistic is mostly due to its large amount of sunlight intake. The goldilocks zone refers to a planet’s distance from the sun: it is not too far from the sun to cause water to be in a constant solid state and it is not too close for the water to vaporize. What is it? It seems that it may receive too much sunlight to maintain liquid water. However, the statistic is still considerably high.

The word habitable does not mean that it contains life. It simply means that if a planet is habitable, there is a higher chance for the development of life.

“We don’t know for sure whether any of the planets in our sample are truly habitable,” said center astronomer David Kipping.

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