Our solar system is strange.
Yes, there are strange worlds out there: The moons that harbor the oceansa desert orb Which was teeming with water and, of course, a planet Full of alien life with tentacles. However, our cosmic neighborhood is not uncommon either What you don’t have.
It’s a golden age in the discovery of worlds outside our solar system, the so-called outer planets. NASA Confirmed the existence of more than 5000 of these planets. Among the most widespread is a class of worlds called super-Earths. They are worlds that range from about 30 to 70 percent larger than Earth. It can be rocky (like Earth) or consist largely of thick swirling gases. or both. Almost a third of the exoplanets discovered so far are super-Earths, which means they are very common in other solar systems.
The mathematics on the back of the envelope is compelling. There may be more than one trillion exoplanets in our area Milky Way Alone. As far as we know, the universe must be teeming with super-Earths — and some of them may even be habitable, meaning they harbor conditions that could sustain life, if they existed there.
“They are really very interesting planets,” Renyu Hu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Mashable.
Are the mysterious “space diamonds” real? Investigation.
In 2022 for example, NASA announced the discovery of the planet LP 890-9c. It checks a lot of boxes for habitability. It is rocky, about 40 percent larger than Earth, and orbits in the “habitable zone” of its solar system, meaning an area where liquid water can exist, although it may be cooler than Earth. But what it is like there remains largely elusive.
What is in its atmosphere? Are any of the super-Earths really like Earth? “We don’t know much about superplanets, because we don’t have one in our solar system,” University of Arizona astronomy professor Chris Imby told Mashable.
“They are really very exciting planets.”
Another super-Earth is discovered in 2022 It has a circumference larger than the Earth’s circumference. Fortunately, new and upcoming giant telescopes will enable scientists to peer into the atmospheres of these mysterious, distant worlds.
Unearthing the mysterious super-terrestrial planets
New worlds are hard to find. Specialized telescopes like NASA’s TESS Space Telescope must stare at stars and look for subtle changes in their brightness. The dimming of the stars could mean that a planet passed in front of them, which could lead to the discovery of a new world. TESS Finding more than 240 confirmed planets to datealong with thousands of other candidates.
Once exoplanets are discovered, astronomers can look even deeper. today is James Webb Space TelescopeIt is the most powerful space telescope ever deployed, and it is equipped with instruments that can Detection of exoplanet atmospheres. Earth, for example, contains large amounts of nitrogen and oxygen, along with trace amounts of gases such as carbon dioxide (Although carbon dioxide has a significant impact on the climate).
But even the nearest planet is trillions of miles away. How can a telescope infer what is happening on such a distant giant Earth? Again, astronomers rely on starlight. When a planet passes in front of a star, light through the exoplanet’s atmosphere passes through it Voidand eventually instruments called spectrometers aboard the Webb telescope. They are basically high-tech prisms, which separate light into a rainbow of colours. Here’s the big trick: Certain particles in the atmosphere absorb certain types or colors of light. So if this color does not appear in the color spectrum observed by Webb’s spectrometer, it means that it has been absorbed (or “consumed”) by the exoplanet’s atmosphere. In other words, this element is in the sky of that planet.
Astronomy scientists Webb would like to point out In the super-Earth discussed above, LP 890-9c. It holds the promise of being a habitable world.
An artist’s conception of the super-Earth LP 890-9 c, right.
The four basic types of exoplanets.
Most importantly, Webb will get much-needed help in the search for exoplanets later this decade. It is noteworthy that his appropriate name “A very large telescope“Being built in a very dark Chilean desert would also collect the light that passes through the atmospheres of the outer planets. Its main mirror is over 127 ft, allowing the instrument to take pictures of some of the exoplanets. “ELT will revolutionize the study of planets outside our solar system,” Writes the European Southern ObservatoryEurope’s Southern Hemisphere Astronomical Cooperation.
Although we will learn more about troubling super-Earths in the decades to come, much will remain elusive. We are limited by our nature by our address in the universe. Webb’s telescope, for example, can only view the atmospheres of exoplanets that it can see as they pass in front of their stars. Webb needs the perfect angle to see this happen, but our telescopes aren’t often at the right angle. Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explained that a typical planet transit around the most common type of star in our galaxy (called a red dwarf) has only a 2 percent chance of being detectable.
The closest planet to us, Proxima Centauri b, is a super-Earth discovered in 2016. Its existence is known from Detection of the slight wobble of his star, which are caused by the ebbs and flows of Proxima Centauri b. But none of our current telescopes are set up to capture light from its atmosphere. Much of the planet is still mysterious to us, although it is very close in cosmological terms.
“We can’t really know much about it until we have more powerful telescopes,” Kubarabu told Mashable.
Life in habitable worlds?
Could some super-Earths really be habitable, which means that life is likely to live there? “That’s one of the key questions we want to know,” Cobarabo said.
But if the super-Earth is indeed habitable, that doesn’t mean there is life there. Not nearly. “A habitable planet can be habitable but not inhabited,” Coparabo stressed.
Empey, from the University of Arizona, believes there are quite a few habitable super-Earths. why? He pointed out that its masses are greater than Earth’s, which gives it better odds of holding on to a dense atmosphere that protects it from harmful radiation and ultraviolet radiation. Super-Earths may also retain an abundance of water. “Water is not a scarce element in the universe,” Impey added.
Nature can deceive us in many different ways.
NASA’s Hu is particularly interested in “cold” super-Earths. This does not mean that they are snowballs. This means that they did not burn up due to close orbits around their star (many exoplanets have been discovered close to their stars, such as TRAPPIST-1b, which may be rocky, but it orbits its star in just 1.5 days). “There are a couple that are likely to have surface temperatures comparable to Earth’s,” Hu said. “It provides the right material conditions for us to search for the possibility of housing.”
On the contrary, it may be for some exoplanets steam atmosphereCuparabo explained. Scorching climates could have evaporated this water from the surface. This world is already hot, but perhaps life could inhabit some regions, or subterranean places, on or on the rocky surface of the planet. After all, life on Earth thrives in the extremely hot environments around underwater volcanic vents, and in Thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park.
An artist’s conception of the aquatic world of the super-Earth TOI-1452b.
Credit: Benoit Gougeon/University of Montreal
However, learning about life on a deep, faraway land is a different and very difficult story. In fact, we can travel to the most remote places on Earth and find life thriving in extreme places, such as Organisms that live deep in the Antarctic ice. “But we can’t do that for exoplanets,” Kubarabo said.
From trillions and trillions of miles away (many light years), an abundance of evidence must converge to support any assertion that a giant Earth It may contain life. Context is key, Kubarabo explained. Is the planet exposed to dangerous radiation? Is there enough data, from the telescopes, to create a computer simulation of what the planet’s environment looks like? Are there alternative ways, beyond life, to explain how certain gases, such as methane, are produced?
“We have to be really careful,” Coparabo stressed. Nature can deceive us in many different ways.
Even on the closest planet to Earth, VenusThere has been a lively scientific debate in recent years about whether small amounts of the gas, phosphine, could be a signal for life in Venus’ atmosphere. Then in 2021, astronomers He concluded that the gas may not have been present on Venus. Evidence for extraterrestrial life, even in our own solar system, is hard to sell.
In the search for habitability on super-Earths, astronomers may eventually discover that few are Earth-like. Perhaps it is dominated by various gases, or it does not have rocky lands sticking out of the watery oceans. Would that be a bad thing?
“I would be disappointed if they were like Earth,” said Kubarabo. “We want to explore strange new worlds.”