A group of astronomers set out a decade ago to search for an answer to one of the oldest questions that philosophers, scientists, priests, astronomers, mystics, and the rest of the human race have been unable to find an answer to, which is: How many Earth-like planets in the universe? And if any, how many distant planets are habitable as we know them?
The tool used by these scientists was the “Kepler” research spacecraft, which was launched in March 2009, on a mission that lasted 3 and a half years to observe 150,000 stars in a spot of the sky in the “Milky Way” galaxy, and explored a slight retreat in starlight. About an exoplanet passing in front of its original star.
When the scientific mission was launched in March 2009, William Buruki, an astronomer at the now retired NASA Ames Research Center, said: “It is not a journey to explore alien creatures, but rather to discover their worlds.” It was Dr. Buruki who dreamed of the project and spent two decades convincing NASA to do so.
When the spacecraft mission ended in 2018, it had discovered more than 4,000 potential worlds among those stars, but none of them showed even a single sign of life (although its study was difficult due to its vast distances from our world). However, for extrapolation, this number indicates that there are billions of exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy, but how many of these planets could be habitable?
After analyzing Kepler data over two years, a team of 44 astronomers, led by Steve Bryson of NASA’s Ames Research Center, reached what they said was the final answer, at least for the time being, and their research was accepted for publication in The Astronomical Review.
The official goal of “Kepler” was to measure a number called “ETA-Earth”, which is some sun-like stars that have an Earth-sized body orbiting around them, in what are known as “golden locks” or the habitable zone, where the weather is warm enough to keep Surface with liquid water.
The team estimated that at least a third, and possibly 90 percent, of stars comparable in mass and brightness to our sun contain rocks like Earth in their habitable regions, and this in the same event is not an easy thing, even if it seems to you as such.
According to NASA estimates, there are at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, of which about 4 billion stars resemble the sun. And if only 7 percent of these stars had habitable planets – at the very least – there could be as many as 300 million habitable Earth-like planets within the Milky Way alone.
“We want to be very conservative in the event of any surprises regarding nature and the suitability to live there,” said Ravi Kumar Cobarabo, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the report’s authors. So we are deliberately lowering estimates. ”
According to astronomers, on average, the closest planet in this way should be about 20 light years away, and there should be 4 of them 30 light years or so away from the sun.
In the same context, said Natalie Batalha, an astronomer at the University of California who ran the tasks of «Kepler» most of her life, one of the authors of the new book: «It took 11 years from launching the research mission until publication, and this is the scientific outcome that we have all been waiting for. This is the reason for choosing (Kepler) to launch in December 2001. ”
The new result indicated that the galaxy has poor fertility or the viability of life, in contrast to the estimates of one of the preliminary analyzes of “Kepler” data in 2013. The conclusion reached by Andrew Howard, Eric Pettigura, and Geoffrey Marcy, who were not part of the “Kepler” team, is About a fifth of the sun-like stars harbor planets in their habitable regions.
And Dr. Natalie Batalha said that one of the improvements this time was to add data from the European satellite “Gaia”, which measured the position and brightness of about a billion stars. Knowing this allowed Kepler scientists to draw the valid regions among these stars with greater accuracy.
Another improvement was represented in dealing better with the statistics, although “the surveys are incomplete in nature”, according to Dr. Natalie, as it is not possible to monitor each star separately.
In the case of the research vehicle “Kepler”, this determination was dangerous, as the spacecraft’s guidance system failed before Kepler could complete its basic survey, which restricted it to discovering planets with orbital periods of no less than 700 days, about twice the length of a year on a planet. Earth.
In an email, David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said he was somewhat skeptical of the results, saying, “The (Kepler) mission did not discover much (and possibly any) of the true isotopes of Earth, or any planets of Earth’s radius. Same, orbit in the same period, and thus receive the same amount of light, orbiting around sun-like stars.
For her part, Dr. Natley said, “We do not yet have any candidate planet to be an exact isotope of Earth, in terms of size, orbit or star type.” Therefore, astronomers had to extrapolate data from the planets they had already seen.
Although the planets that Kepler observed are close to the size of the Earth – from half to one and a half times the size of the Earth – and are assumed to be rocky, no one knows what their details look like, and whether anything lives or can live on them, they are far from being able to study them in detail. Larger. So far, we know only one planet that harbors life, our planet.
There were many opportunities and possibilities that the “Kepler” spacecraft did not encounter any of them until now. The “Kepler” research vehicle measure only relates to the Earth and stars like the sun, but in the galaxy there are more than these stars, but they are smaller and faint stars, known as “red dwarves.” A quarter to half of “red dwarfs” also harbor habitable planets, according to a researcher Courtney Dressing, who is now working at the University of California, although some astronomers are concerned that the radiation flares emanating from such stars will destroy any potential life there. It is worth noting that the “red dwarf asteroids” were not included in the new analysis.
The “red dwarf asteroids” are relevant to the search for life, because the research vehicle “Kepler” transported the torch and missions to a spacecraft called “Transiting Exploration Survey Satellite”, which was launched in 2018 to scan the sky in search of exoplanets hundreds of light-years away from Earth. . It has so far discovered 66 new exoplanets, and has classified more than 2,000 life-candidates.
In the same context, George Reeker, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the principal researcher on the mission, said in an email that it was expected that most of these planets would be found orbiting “red dwarves”, adding: “Because About three-quarters of the stars in the solar neighborhood are dwarfs. This leaves a very large area of discovery for the new research vehicle (TRANSIT EXPLANTENGE) during the next decade.
Dr Batalha said that in the future, young scientists might find a way to improve knowledge of the rocky planets interspersed with the stars (AITA Earth). That would be the actual standard. ”
The evaluation of “ITEarth” is an important factor unknown until now in a mathematical expression known as “the Drake equation” that astronomers use to estimate the number of technological civilizations that may exist in the galaxy, and that we may be able to communicate with these civilizations by radio or any other means in Cosmic day.
The time has come to move to the next factor in the “Drake equation” for extraterrestrial civilizations, which is that tiny fraction of these worlds on which life appeared. Searching for even a single clay mold on some strange rocks will revolutionize biology, and that is the blueprint for the next half century as humans continue to climb the universe on an endless journey to put an end to our cosmic unity.
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