We have found another “potentially habitable” planet very close. It’s less exciting than it seems

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Planetary science is not for. In the last days, We’ve discovered a new exoplanet around the closest star to the Sun, Proxima D. It is very close to its sun (just four million kilometers compared to Mercury’s 57.9 million or Earth’s 149 million) so it is very unlikely that life as we know it will persist in it. But the thing did not stop there, we have also found planetary bodies circling in the potentially habitable zone of a white dwarf (WD1054-226).

We discover an exoplanet every two and a half days. However, in just 30 years, what used to sound like something exciting (“discovering exoplanets”, “finding potentially habitable planets”) has become relatively normal and without many practical consequences. We have found more than 4000 exoplanets. Does it make sense to keep talking about something that happens every two and a half days? What does it really mean today to find a potentially habitable planet?

Mysteries that are being solved. I do not want to give the impression that these works, by themselves, are not interesting. On the contrary. For example, the discovery of WD1054-226 It is even exciting because the planetary systems of white dwarfs (the rest left by the stars when burning all the available hydrogen) are until now a mystery. In fact, “this is the first time that astronomers have detected some kind of planetary body in the habitable zone of a white dwarf,” the researchers explain.

This star was able to survive the explosion of a supernova, it is the first that astronomers discover

It’s more, discovery raises new questions like the absolute regularity of the bodies found (which pass every 23 minutes in front of the star); something that is difficult to explain right now. But above all, it allows us to look into the very long-term future: 95% of all stars will become white dwarfs. The Sun included. Knowing well what the planetary systems of these stars are like gives us information about the situation in which our planet will be in about 4,500 million years.

  E.Schwieterman et al.

E.Schwieterman et al.

Habitability, that great unknown. But beyond that, the truth is that Ignacio Crespo pointed out in La Razón the news about exoplanets has become a contest to highlight some curious feature about the last stone that we have discovered. That is what, after all, has been wearing down the words we use to talk about space. For example: when we talk about “habitable zone” most of us tend to think of a “new Earth”, but the reality is far from that. The habitable zone as normally defined there is room for both a paradisiacal Eden and a “toxic mousetrap incompatible with complex life”

How people who believe in aliens defend that they have not yet contacted us

It’s not about seeing where we’re going. Some time ago we analyzed what would happen if we had to leave Earth and the truth is that (technologically speaking) the possibility of going to one of those planets is not even on the table. Beyond the plans of Elon Musk and his team, there is no lack of voices that indicate that we will remain locked up here on Earth. What is all this research for then?

Improve our questions and our answers. The most obvious answer has to do with understanding how life works and knowing if we are really an exception in the universe or if there is a galaxy of bugs out there waiting. But there is another more interesting answer and that is that we need to improve our technology not only to improve our answers about the limits of matter, space and time, no; we need to improve it also to improve our questions. There is a revolution in physics that is about to begin and the sooner we learn to take advantage of it, the better.

Image | Mark A Garlick

Planetary science is not for. In the last days, We’ve discovered a new exoplanet around the closest star to the…

Planetary science is not for. In the last days, We’ve discovered a new exoplanet around the closest star to the…

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