A Trek to a New Home

Have you ever thought about the possibility of living on another planet? To many, this might sound like an idea rooting from Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxies or pretty much any intergalactic movie. But relatively soon, this idea might become more of a reality.

Our planet Earth is moving towards a ‘dead-end’ – literally. Climate change is gradually drifting the planet to its final moments. Over an interval of billions of years or sooner, if no action is taken, the Earth’s surface temperature will drastically increase, causing a runaway greenhouse effect that will wipe all sources of life. Thus, making Earth uninhabitable to humans. Luckily, scientists might have found a solution that could potentially give hope to the next generations; exoplanets.

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our solar system. Astronomers discovered the first set of exoplanets in the 1990s. Since then, over 4,000 have been confirmed, and there are possibly thousands of yet-to-be-discovered exoplanets across the universe. But why are astronomers so interested in studying exoplanets? The answer to that question is quite simple. Not only will exoplanets help amplify our understanding of new worlds, but some of these could serve as “potential hosts for human life” for when Earth is no longer an option.

A study led by researchers at Washington State University explains how some of the planets have similar characteristics to Earth and rotate around stars with longer lifespans than our sun. Some of these have been characterized as “super habitable” because they might be better for life than Earth itself. Many factors can affect an exoplanet’s habitability, such as stellar type, the planetary semimajor axis on climate balance, and most importantly, the presence of water.

However, despite this, as said by Schulze-Makuch, a professor at WSU, “It’s sometimes difficult to convey this principle of super habitable planets because we think we have the best planet.” Though, in general, possible candidates remain in an orbit which is neither too far nor too close to its orbital star, for liquids such as water to exist over geological timescales with atmospheres possibly containing the right balance of gases to maintain homeostasis.

Most of these exoplanets are many light-years away, with the closest one being 4.2 light-years from Earth. However, with satellites such as TESS and Kepler, we have been able to explore these worlds beyond our solar system. As the intersection between astronomy and technology advances, the possibility to physically reach these new worlds increases.

“Throughout the history of human civilization, we have never gotten to the point—until basically the last 15 years—where we could see planets around other stars. And now we’re at the point where we’re coming up with ideas to discover life outside Earth,” says John Clarke, professor of astronomy at Boston University. Life outside of Earth might one day become a reality, and who knows, we might actually get to experience sooner or later those Star Wars fantasies we have all dreamt of.