We may not be ready to launch a space mission with an aim to colonize another habitable planet anytime soon, but at least we have a prospect. No, I’m not talking about Mars. I’m talking about Kepler 22b. It’s a planet located 600 light years away from Earth that just so happens to be orbiting its star, Kepler-22, in the habitable zone.
Astronomers observed the planet after first discovering it in 2011 and have said that the temperatures on Kepler 22b are comparable to those on Earth. Provided the greenhouse effect is the same, the planet’s resting temperature is about 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). That’s great news, because it is a life-friendly temperature.
What Makes a Planet Habitable
Believe it or not, a planet’s habitability is about more than just the distance from a star. It also relies on whether or not the planet has an atmosphere, in addition to other variables that must be within reasonable living conditions. For instance, temperature is a very important element when it comes to sustaining life.
Even though the planet was discovered using the Kepler space telescope, it’s possible that similar planets may be discovered with Earth-based equipment in the future. That’s especially important because the Kepler was retired in 2013 after two of its vital devices failed, although NASA is looking into using the telescope for other means.
Lots of Effort and Patience
“With a lot of effort and a lot of patience, you could detect the transit from the largest telescopes. We also think it’s possible with the Hubble Space Telescope. From space, you should not have any issue [spotting it.]”
The quote above from Roberto Sanchis-Ojeda, a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was in reference to the discovery of another planet that is identical in size to Earth. The “lava planet” orbits its star every 8.5 hours and is much too hot to sustain life; however the size is what’s most important. The discovery is relevant because, if anything, it shows that there are other planets out there in the galaxy similar to Earth.
How to Get There
As for Kepler 22b, we still have a lot to learn about the planet, and there’s always the matter of travel. Light travels 186,000 miles per second, so if you multiply how many seconds are in a year (31,500,000) by that number you get 5,850,000,000,000, or close to 6 trillion miles. Now multiply 6 trillion by 600, for the distance in light years to Kepler 22b, and you’ll understand just how far we’d have to travel in order to get there.
To put it into perspective, a shuttle orbits Earth at about 5 miles per second. At that rate it would take a shuttle 37,200 years to travel one light-year. In other words, we won’t be visiting Kepler 22b anytime within the next decade, maybe even century.
So, what good is finding a habitable planet that’s so far away? Pete Worden, the director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, gave the answer during the 2011 press conference where he announced the discovery of Kepler 22b.
“We’re getting closer and closer to discovering the so-called ‘Goldilocks planet.””
Whether we can actually travel to it or not, the discovery of such a planet is very exciting. It would be awesome if someone were to create a website cataloguing all the habitable planets discovered. Are there any takers out there?