Scientists have just discovered a planet that at the moment holds the lead for the most likely planet to host life. The planet, which appears to orbit a red dwarf, is approximately four times the size of Earth – earning it the name “Super Earth.” It’s also said to have liquid water on the surface. Is it possible this planet could be the one scientists have been searching for?
The idea of finding the perfect planet host for life has been a long search indeed. The list of stars that may host planets was short at first, with much of our galaxy considered an unknown. Extrasolar planets used to be a taboo subject, first proposed by Giordano Bruno in the sixteenth century. While his views on the universe may not have been the primary reason he was burned at the stake, they certainly didn’t help. It wasn’t until surprisingly late, in 1988 that the first extrasolar planet orbiting Gamma Cephei was confirmed through planetary detection thanks to the efforts of Canadian astronomers Bruce Campbell (not to be confused with the actor of the same name), G.A.H. Walker, and Stephenson Yang.
Since then, planetary research has added 758 extrasolar planets with an estimated 160 billion more thought to be in the Milky Way Galaxy orbiting distant stars. The number may actually be far higher, with trillions of objects floating in the formless void of space between stars. And now it seems one of them may be a likely candidate for life.
The star system Gliese 667 has been in the news before, being one of the most likely candidates to harbor a planet that might host life since the discovery of GJ667Cc means we may be on the fast track toward discovering a planet like Earth that could sustain life very similar to what we would recognize. The discovery, confirmed by astronomers from a number of observatories around the world – countries ranging from Australia, Chile, England, and Germany – may not only expand the perceptual size of our universe, but also make it more populous. And that’s not all. This is only the beginning. There are many more planets like GJ667Cc out there waiting to be discovered. It’s only a matter of looking in the right places. But once scientists manage that, they will have taken us one step closer to becoming part of a much larger interstellar community.
Of course the actual discovery of another planet does not necessarily guarantee we will be able to visit it just yet. In order to even communicate at the speed of light with planets surrounding Gliese 667, we would have to wait an estimated 22 years for a signal to arrive, and then another 22 years to receive a signal back. But if we did manage to send a message out there and then get a response, it would be well worth waiting for to confirm one of the ultimate questions of the universe had a hopeful answer – we are not alone.