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Finding Earth 2.0

Just how significant is NASA's discovery?

24Jul

The chances of finding life outside of Earth in this solar system remain slim. Jupiter’s moons - we’ve discovered around 70 of them so far - represent the biggest hope, yet NASA scientists are unwilling to rule out the possibility that Mars could have supported life in the past.

At one point, Mars’s northern hemisphere had oceans comparable to Earth’s, making it possible for life, in the form of microbes, to survive.

Exoplanets - planets which lie beyond our solar system - have been of keen interest to scientists throughout the last 20 years. Thousands have been discovered in that time, yet none, up until very recently, have brought much promise.

Yesterday’s discovery of a planet which shares characteristics with Earth - called Earth 2.0 - is a significant breakthrough. It’s taken a couple of years, but the Kepler space telescope, which was launched by NASA in 2009, found in the region of 1,013 Exoplanets. With the technology that’s currently available, it’s not possible to actually photograph the planet, but scientists can compare how similar it is to Earth.

John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, called Kepler ‘a pretty close cousin to Earth’, with its size, the length of its time to orbit and conditions all similar. The findings were courtesy of the data attained from the Kepler telescope, with the volumes so great that the mission had to be extended by a further three-years.

It takes Earth 2.0 385 days to orbit, just 20 days more than Earth. This is remarkably similar, especially when you consider that it takes Venus, a planet which in the context of space is on Earth’s doorstep, 88 days to orbit. Perhaps most importantly is that Earth 2.0’s been within a habitable distance from its sun for billions of years.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Kepler could support human life. The gravitational pull of Earth is dwarfed by that on Earth 2.0. This would be problematic, but Jon Jenkins, Data Analyst at NASA, feels that we would, over time, be able to adapt to the planet’s conditions. He states; ‘People already adapt to heavy weights - humans are built to do this kind of thing. The human body has an amazing ability to repair itself - so over time, humans could adapt.’

Space exploration remains a field which some remain skeptical of. The promise of new planets often turns out to be nothing. And although we might be able to understand how the planet works, it remains impossible to get there as it’s 1,400 lightyears away. Yet the sheer feat of finding Earth 2.0 demonstrates the sophistication of not only technology, but data collection techniques.

The next step will be to make faster spacecrafts. That’s obviously a long way off, yet the pace at which NASA’s technology has developed over the last couple of decades gives us hope.

Earth 2.0 may not have life. It does, however, support the theory that life outside of Earth could flourish. That, in itself, makes this a landmark discovery. 

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