At the time of writing this article, it remained less than seven hours before astrophysicists at NASA hold a press conference to announce their latest and perhaps biggest discovery yet. The anticipated press conference has got the science world buzzing as they await the big announcement to be made by NASA.
NASA is set to hold a press conference today on Thursday, July 23rd, to announce their ‘new discoveries’ made from the Kepler mission. A mission set out to search for habitable planets within the Milky Way galaxy. It has emerged that the Kepler spacecraft has been on the search since May 2009 on a journey that took it beyond the Solar System. It has so far discovered over 4,000 planets in a zone referred to as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’; a zone that is neither too hot, nor too cold for life to exist.
Speculations doing rounds, seems to suggests that NASA is going to announce that they have discovered a potential planets as conducive as Earth. Perhaps a planet that is Earth’s twin and orbits another star that is similar to the Solar System’s Sun. These discoveries come on the back drop of a $100 million project by Professor Stephen Hawking, set out to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence within the Milky Way galaxy.
There is now no doubt that there are many ‘nearby planets’ but many are either uninhabitable gas giants or rocky planets much like the Earth, but too close or far from their stars to sustain life as we know it. Basing on the logic that liquid water is critical in sustaining life as we know it here on Earth. Many scientists searching for other habitable planets focus on the discovery of liquid water in the planets being investigated for possible life-forms.
Another consideration is the size of the planets. A big enough planet would have enough gravitational pull on gases such as hydrogen and helium to make up an atmosphere. Thus, the Kepler Spacecraft has been on the lookout for rocky planets with the size of between half to twice the size of planet Earth. Also the planet must be lying at a certain distance from its star that could potentially sustain the existence of liquid water.
NASA is also trying to identify the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars within the Milky Way galaxy that could possibly have planets that fit the above descriptions. This process is done at the space observatory, which is able to detect the planets as their orbits pass in front of their stars with a characteristic tiny but periodic dimming of the given star’s brightness.
In April, the astronomers made another yet remarkable discovery of an Earth-like planet within the Milky Way Galaxy that is orbiting at the same distance from its star, like our Earth orbits from the Sun. The planet was named, Kepler 1861 and is