Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Need to abandon Earth? Here are 49 alternative planets.

If we needed to abandon the planet we now know where to go—or at least where to look.

University of Hawai`i astronomers have helped identify dozens of planets that are the right size and the right distance from the sun, to potentially sustain life as we know it.

(Image: Habitable zones around different suns. Credit: Chester Harman. View a large version here.)

Astronomers from the Kepler Habitable Zone Working Group, which includes Nader Haghighipour of the University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy, writing in the Astrophysical Journal, have described 49 such planets.

Each is within a sun’s habitable zone—not too hot, not too cold—and is less than twice the radius of the Earth, which is required to have a rocky planet. The habitable zone is defined as that zone in which a rocky planet can have liquid water on its surface—something many Earth life forms require.

The team used NASA’s Kepler space observatory to identify the potential new human home planets. But they are also very cautious—just because it’s the right size and in the right zone doesn’t necessarily mean it actually is habitable. But it provides a first step.

“The HZ is primarily a target selection tool rather than any guarantee regarding habitability,” the authors write.

This also doesn’t address how we’d get there. Most such planets, even with technology far advanced from ours, could not be reached within the lifetimes of humans.

An abstract of the paper is here.

A press release on the report is here.

The authors of the paper are Stephen R. Kane, Michelle L. Hill, James F. Kasting, Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, Elisa V. Quintana, Thomas Barclay, Natalie M. Batalha, William J. Borucki, David R. Ciardi, Natalie R. Hinkel, Lisa Kaltenegger, Franck Selsis, Guillermo Torres and Hachichipour. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

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