The NASA Spitzer Space Telescope has accomplished what astronomers are already terming a “historic achievement.” The infrared telescope actually allowed scientists to view light from a planet similar to our own outside of the solar system. The implications, of course, are that they are actually seeing something from a place where life could exist.
The planet is 55 Cancri e and has been on the charts since 2004. It is not likely to harbor life, but it is similar in nature to our planet in other ways. Size-wise, it is much larger, leading scientists to call it a “super-Earth.” In reality, they believe 55 Cancri e is around twice as wide as Earth and has eight times as much mass.
It should be noted that this is not the first time Spitzer was able to detect light from any exoplanet. Back in 2005, Spitzer pulled off the same achievement from another planet. The difference is that the planet it spotted light from back then was a gas giant similar to Jupiter. This was not considered as exciting because the planet was such an inhospitable environment for life. Basically, scientists are excited about the prospect of being able to actually view something on a planet where life could exist.
Since many exoplanets are discovered not by visual data but by anomalies in movements of other visible objects that indicate something must be there, actually having some physical confirmation is comforting. As the search for new Earth-like exoplanets continues, it is only a matter of time before Spitzer sets its sights on a planet with real life possibilities. Perhaps something will be detected that will give some indication.