Is There A Better Planet Out There For Us?


– [Narrator] Astronomers have
found dozens of potentially habitable planets outside
of our solar system. That’s dozens of chances to
discover the first alien life. Or, you know, plenty of places we could park our first interstellar colonies. But with so many options,
how do we know which is best? You might think that
most Earth-like planets should be at the top of our list. After all, we’ve got everything we need. Water, land, an atmosphere, and trillions of life
forms lapping it all up. But according to a small
group of researchers, there are bigger and
better planets out there. They’re called super-Earths. Super-Earths may be
some of the most common planets in our galaxy. Since 2009, Kepler Space Telescope has
discovered about 4000 exoplanets. 30% of them are super-Earths, and a few percent of those super-Earths orbit within their host
star’s habitable zone. That’s the Goldilocks Zone, where the planet’s surface is
just the right temperature for liquid water. Not too cold, not too hot. Now, there’s a chance
some of these super-Earths aren’t rocky worlds like Earth. The larger ones could
be made out of mostly hydrogen and helium gas, like Jupiter and Saturn, which would not be very
hospitable for life. But the reality is, astronomers are still gathering details as more data comes in. So, in the meantime, let’s explore what life on a
rocky, habitable super-Earth might be like. Liquid water is just the start. These planets can be almost
double Earth’s radius, and up to 10 times more massive. And all that extra mass
is what researchers think could really make super-
Earths the perfect home. That’s because more massive planets have a stronger gravitational pull. super-Earth Kepler 20b, for example is nearly double the size of Earth, and it’s 10 times more massive. This makes its surface gravity
almost 3 times stronger. That stronger gravity means
that the planet can hold on to more air molecules and
form a thicker atmosphere, which is great for protecting against harmful space radiation. It also means mountains and
hills would erode a lot faster, leaving a relatively flatter
surface, compared to Earth. Now that might sound boring, but scientists think this
could actually spawn dozens of shallow islands all across the planet. Those in turn, could be the perfect place
for life to form and evolve. Just as biodiversity in
Earth’s oceans is richest in shallow waters near coastlines, such an “archipelago world” might be enormously advantageous to life. There’s just one problem, leaving this tropical paradise
would be extremely difficult. The escape velocity on Kepler 20b is more than double compared to Earth’s, which means either rockets
would need more fuel to reach their destinations… Like for example, a mission similar to
the Apollo Moon Landing would require twice the amount of fuel. Or, rockets would have
to carry only a fraction of the payload. For instance, SpaceX’s Falcon
Heavy can launch 50 thousand kilograms of payload into Earth’s orbit. Whereas it could only launch 40 kilograms into orbit around a super-
Earth like Kepler 20b. That’s about the weight
of a German Shepherd. Suffice it to say, leaving a super-Earth would
be a far greater challenge. But if it looked like this, would you really want to say goodbye? We’ll never know for
sure until we visit one. What questions do you have about space? Leave your queries and the comments below. And thanks for watching.

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