In case you haven’t come out from under your rock lately, NASA made major news this week with the discovery of the alien planet Kepler-22b. NASA has been feverishly discovering these “alien” planets over the last few years; it means only that they are planets orbiting stars outside of our solar system. Hundreds of these have been found, but Kepler-22b is the crown jewel of the search so far because it is the first alien planet to reside in its star’s “Goldilocks Zone.” This is the distance that scientists have determined is the most likely for the possibility of liquid water to exist on the planet, and with that, the possibility of life.
Kepler-22b orbits a star that is somewhere in the region between the constellations Lyra and Cygnus. The star is very comparable to our own sun, and the distance that Kepler-22b resides at is virtually identical to Earth. Spectrum analysis has confirmed that the temperature of the planet is a nice, Spring-day 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This has NASA scientists buzzing about the possibility that the planet could have liquid water, continents, and the real “holy grail” of science, life. At 600 light years away, Kepler-22b is relatively close in astronomical terms. That’s highly relative when you put it in human terms. With our current technology, it would still take 22 million years for us to get there. And yet, scientists are already salivating at the concept of one day being to cultivate a planet like this for Earth’s residents to expand outward to new space real estate. Recent CERN developments that confirm that breaking the speed of light is now a real possibility are only increasing the hysteria about the idea of humans one day starting space colonies, just like has ever been the topic of science-fiction novels.
The discovery of Kepler-22b is profound, but it also fits into the “it-was-bound-to-happen” category. Statistics tell anyone that there must surely be a planet out there somewhere in a similar position as Earth, and it is equally as certain that water can exist on such a planet. As a matter of fact, astronomers already think that the presence of water may very well be found in our own solar system err the end. Mars has long been thought to have ice caps, and the latest data from exploratory missions has only supported these theories. Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, has long been targeted as a possible source of life in our own solar system. The planet-like satellite is made up of mostly ice and rock. The sheer numbers on the universal level make it a near certainty that conditions like those on our precious Earth exist elsewhere. Kepler-22b is only the first to confirm this notion; others will follow. However, with the discovery of something like this comes more questions.
NASA is able to confirm many things about Kepler-22b, from its year (290 days, very close to Earth’s 365), or its distance from its own version of our sun (about 15% closer than we are), but despite all of that great info, they
still can’t tell the world whether it is made of rock or simply another gas giant of the Neptune variety. It seems that either is equally possible. The stars will line up (pardon the pun) in 2012 to give NASA and scientists a much better chance to observe Kepler-22b. Until then, a lot of these questions will remain in the realm of speculation.
So what does it all mean? The discovery of Kepler-22b reminds us that the possibilities are endless. The sheer numbers we are dealing with here make almost anything seem possible. And yet, we don’t really know anymore than we did yesterday, when it is all said and done. We are no closer to putting Kepler-22b under the microscope, so to speak, and we are definitely nowhere near being able to go and take a look for ourselves. It is amazing what scientists are able to ascertain from this unimaginable distance, but there won’t be any YouTube videos of shuttles lifting off from Kepler-22b anytime soon. The reality is that we simply don’t have the technology to reliably look that far out or go that far out. Things like CERN are working their butts off to change that fact every day while the rest of us go to our mundane jobs.
So, what does Kepler-22b prove to the world? Simple. It proves that you ain’t seen nothing yet.