I don’t know about you, but when I heard that NASA was going to make a huge announcement a week ago, I got pretty excited! What were they going to tell us?! They have found an alien life form? Nope. They have heard something resembles a communication signal? Nope. They have found a planet that can support life as we know it? Nope. OK, they certainly found planets that have water on them, right? Nope. So what did they find? A handful of rocky planets that could potentially support life, and MIGHT have flowing water on them. Maybe… So… do we actually care? Much like the questions above, the answer is NOPE, and here’s why.
Most of the new planets are rocky, like Earth
The Earth is rocky, so this is a good thing, right? Maybe. From what we know this means there is a chance that the rocky planets provide an atmosphere that is conducive to life, keeping temperatures within a reasonable range while keeping out other nasty things like radiation. That being said, it turns out that these planets are orbiting a red dwarf star. Big deal, our sun is yellow, right? It turns out that it is a big deal, and that it is usually the case that the habitable zone of a red dwarf star is not really a great place to be, and that the environments are very different from that of Earth. Tidal heating and low radiant flux are just a couple issues. Go Google those terms, or just assume the planets temperatures aren’t going to be real user friendly.
Well, at least they are close enough to reach…
That’s true. By traveling at THE SPEED OF LIGHT it will only take us 40 years to get there. If you think about it, the youngest Astronaut candidates have been around 26 years old. Fast track them and provide a year to prepare for the mission, shoot them off into space, land them safely, and they crawl out of their spaceship as spry 67 year old! That’s like sending my parents into space. You know, the people that don’t have smartphones or understand how to look something up on Google. Just who I want setting foot on our new home. Oh, did I mention the longest anyone has ever been in space is just over 400 days? Details, details…
…but when we get there, there will be water galore!
Sure, just like Venus and Mars. Ohhh wait, see what I just did there? Two planets in the habitable zone in our solar system which, as it turns out, don’t have water. Or life. Or really much of any value to us. But TRAPPIST-4 through 6 are different. They are different because we just don’t know yet. The idea of liquid water on any of these planets is a “huge maybe.” That’s reassuring.
With all this said, it is clear that there are decades of research to be performed and billions of dollars to be spent to better understand if these planets are really going to provide us with a new home, or even more exciting, new neighbors! If nothing else we will be able to learn about planets similar to Earth. That and we’ll give our friends at NASA something to do since they don’t feel like flying to the moon anymore.
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