Who Lives There and Are They Friendly? NASA’s TESS Finds “Super-Earth” Not Far from Home

August 8th, 2019

by Andreea S.

nasa finds super-earth close to home

We told you once, we told you a million times: we will eventually become the invading aliens of other worlds!

NASA discovered a Super-Earth just 31 light-years away and some believe it is habitable. Are we going personally there to check things out? Not right now, but you never know!

Take that, Orson Welles!

As latest exoplanet news confirms, NASA discovered a total of 4,025 worlds outside our solar system and this new one found in the Hydra constellation just joined the party.

The new exo planet sparked the imagination and hope of scientists everywhere because, well, it could be inhabitable should it have a thick atmosphere and be made of rock in order to support liquid water. 

Among all the new planets that NASA tallies, this one takes the cake for a great number of reasons:

  • it is one of the closest worlds to home that we can further study;
  • according to the lead researchers who published the findings, the M3V-type star is one of the brightest and nearest M dwarfs discovered to date;
  • the star is old and unusually quiet, with less activity than your regular flaring dwarf star;
  • The planets circling it are a Super-Earth and two Sub-Neptunes, which, we all have to admit, sound not only cool but also like something all science-fiction writers old and new might want to tackle in their future works.

Humanity has imagined close encounters of the third kind in many ways – a lot of them disrupting if not violent – but knowing that there might be some sort of organism or life form 31 light-years away is surely giving us pause to reconsider our place in this vast and (so far) very, very quiet universe.

What’s with this Super-Earth Anyway?

The new Super-Earth discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) might be a watery world. We do not know for sure yet, but what the scientific team behind the discovery says is that it just may be possible.

The GJ 357 d planet is promising because it lies in outskirts of the star’s habitable zone, pretty much like our Mars, for instance. However, our Mars still no shows signs of life, so the question is, what makes this Super-Earth so special?

According to the research team, GJ 357 d is more massive than our Earth, but lighter than giants the likes of Neptune.

In other words, the Super-Earth gets enough star energy as our Mars does from our Sun and has a rocky constitution to boot. If it also had a thick atmosphere – something scientists still need to find out – it could gather and hold enough heat from the star and permit surface liquid water to exist.

This star system also comes with some traits that baffle the researchers:

  • The planets line up like pearls on a string, the ratio of their orbits coming very close to whole numbers;
  • The Super-Earth takes 3 days to orbit the star; 
  • The closest Sub-Neptune takes 5 days to orbit the star;
  • The outer Sub-Neptune takes 11 days to orbit the star.

Who Lives on that Super-Earth or Others like It and… Are They Friendly?

TESS – receiving the torch from Kepler – is a planet-hunting space telescope set to go where no one has gone before: to find new planets – and specifically exoplanets – made of rock that could sustain alien life. Researchers expect to find a handful of new worlds (we will see how brave they are) during its two-years mission.

When it comes to “where are the aliens we are looking for?”, science and philosophy are in a conundrum because of both Kardashev Scale and the Fermi Paradox.

Concerning this particular Super-Earth, the answer is simple: we don’t know if there is life out there and we did not come up with a plan of going there yet. Nevertheless, we will use our best equipment and scientific minds to learn more about this new system.

How Many Super-Earth Planets are out There?

Scientists consider the TOI-270 star ideal for further research related to these planets’ properties and dynamic behavior because, well, they are close to home and quite bright.

Coming up next is the James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2021 to further study this particular star system. We cannot go there personally yet, but when it comes to putting people in space, don’t hold your breath, as the future is here and near. 

Other than that, NASA is determined to track new planets and offer exoplanet news as soon as they come in. TESS took the torch over from Kepler and it will pass it on to the next big thing soon enough, and honestly, we couldn’t be more excited! 

If the aliens don’t come to us, should we go to them?

Despite the vastness of the universe, SETI, and our piles and piles of data telling us that there has to be something out there, anything, there is still a deafening silence coming from outer space.

The aliens may already be here, they may not know we are here, they may not care we are here, they may be as primitive as we are and cannot travel yet such distances, or we may actually be totally alone and stranded on our rock forever. The theories and possibilities are many. 

What is clear is that we didn’t go through Independence Day or War of the Worlds yet. But is it a good idea to become other world’s invaders? 

At this point, we cannot help but wonder: despite the Fermi paradox, despite the incommensurable number of variables (known and hidden) that science has to deal with, what if we do find some alien form out there in our lifetime?

How would such a finding change everything we know about… everything? 

And, more importantly, are we going to explore the possibility of colonizing the next best Super-Earth we find, or are we just going to limit ourselves to the peaceful research of whatever life forms we find out there, if any?

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