You’re probably familiar with our average solar system and our Earth which keeps us all alive right? An exoplanet is a planet which is out of our solar system. Well, did you know that there are over 2,000 exoplanets stored on the internet and in databases that the whole world discovered that are waiting to be explored. All of the 2,000 confirmed planets are light years away from Earth. So far that research is an extremely difficult task with our current technology. However, for the small number of exoplanets that are significantly closer to Earth, they are being researched and evaluated so that scientists can figure out the existing terrain of the planet along with the atmosphere and possible habitable zones where life may exist. These planets have the possibility of supporting life in the future.
For example exoplanet, Kepler-452b, discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope on July 13, 2015 is estimated to be 60% bigger than Earth and lies in the habitable zone of the system’s star. Since the planet is in the habitable zone it may have a chance to contain liquid water because it is not too close to the sun nor too far away. However, just because this planet may have liquid water does not mean it may be exactly like Earth. This is because the planet’s size, mass, and gravity are increased. Exoplanet Kepler is thought to have a mass of five Earths along with double the surface gravity of our planet. If this estimate is accurate Kepler-452b could have excessive active volcanos and also a thick cloudy mist that covers most of the planet’s surface. In addition the Sun that Kepler-452b orbits is six billion years old, causing the planet to receive 10% more radiation compared to Earth. Unfortunately, the sun that Kepler orbits will eventually cause the planet to have the “Runaway Greenhouse Effect”, a condition where the planet cooks and the oceans boil away along with the atmosphere eroding.
You now may be wondering how these types of planets are discovered. Well, these planets are discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope which orbits the sun. The Kepler Space Telescope is well equipped with all the necessary tools in order to discover and log potential unknown planets. The way Kepler detects exoplanets is that it watches the many stars that are light years away, while the satellite is orbiting our sun. The Space Telescope then monitors the stars then uses its photometer (a device which measures light) to detect any change in light from the stars which would show that there may be be a possible planet in orbit around that could cause it to dim on occasion. After the satellite uses the photometer it then uses it’s high gain antenna to transmit the data back to Earth in a strong precise radio wave beam which NASA would then receive from the Kepler spacecraft. When NASA receives the information sent from the Kepler spacecraft it would then analyze the data and determine if a new planet has been discovered.
According to Scott Serverson, a professor of astronomy at Sonoma State University, discovering exoplanets is important because we can “get a perspective on the universe and determine where life is possible.” Currently with our technology we only are able to observe planets from Earth because we don’t have advanced enough technology to actually send a spacecraft out to each individual planet. However, professor Scott said “we had many successful missions such as Kepler, but we can also detect planets from the ground. Finding a planet is difficult and takes many years to process the data and operate and assemble the space telescopes.” Space telescopes that currently operate are required to detect the targeted planet at least three times and gather the proper evidence and research in order for the planet to be confirmed to actually exist.
Our current research is important because it will eventually give us enough knowledge about how the universe works and was/is created. Eventually this knowledge will be put to good use in the future which could help us figure out which types of planets are safe to land. Many of the exoplanets that have been discovered are thought to be habitable, so maybe there could be life there.