More Possible Alien Planets?

17 Dec

Yes. Another space post. This time though with three interesting finds recently in the space world! First – hopefully that picture peaked your interest into what exactly is going on with a red sun. Well that is a red dwarf star – and that other planetary shape there is a “super Earth.”

You heard right, that artist rendition of what this super Earth looks like, shows the newly discovered planet orbiting a small that appears to be a “water world,” with a surface that might be covered with liquid water. This is what scientists believe it would be like if we were to land on it:

Plunging down through that atmosphere, Charbonneau says, the light from the star would most likely dim and disappear until you were in darkness. Then, if you kept going down and your ship could survive the crushing pressure of the atmosphere, you might splash into a hot ocean.

Well that doesn’t sound very hospitable at all. At least it has water on it though and is only 40 light-years away, which we still cannot get to. Scientists have previously found hundreds of planets orbiting stars far from our solar system, but the vast majority are gas giants like Jupiter. The number of known super-Earths (planets more massive than Earth but not as massive as a gas giant) is far smaller, this being only the second time that scientists have been able to determine the density, and thus the possible composition, for a super-Earth. But this planet seems a little implausible – so where else could life be? Why not look in our own solar system!

More after the jump: Including a video!

Does this look more like home to you? Well at the recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransisco, Francis Nimmo, who is a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, said that the conditions on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moon Europa may be just right to harbor life.

Nimmo said that liquid water is a necessity (obviously Nimmo!), but he also had this to say about the possibility:

Liquid water is the one requirement for life that everyone can agree on. The water underneath the icy crusts of Enceladus and Europa may just be teeming with alien fish and algae, or more basic forms of life such as bacteria.

Both moons are so far away from the Sun, they hardly get any heat from it, however, it may receive its heat from the tidal forces of Saturn. Basically Saturn’s gravitational pull is so strong, it may stretch the interior of the planet enough to heat the water below the crust of ice, which is estimated to vary in thickness between 25km to 45km. Which opens geysers of frozen water forced out of the interior. Now our satellite tracking this, Cassini, observed these jets – it even flew through one! So when do we get going! Well all the data from this mission still is being analyzed and scientists are quick to point out that just because they are habitable moons, does not mean there is life on them (well shucks).

So until we get all that data analyzed, we can hope for the future missions. One to the moon Europa, such as the proposed ‘interplanetary submarine’ (what?!) and of course the quest continues for a mission to Mars that will finally give us some idea if Lil’ Wayne is in fact a martian.

And now for your mind to be blown! I always love these images or videos of just how small we are in this giant infinite space. So this video shows the universe as mapped through astronomical observations. Every single thing you see in it is completely to scale.

So on your way home tonight, look up and just think exactly how small we are and how many more super-Earths, habitable planets, or twin yous there are out there…

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