In a world that appears to all intents and purposes to be tip-toeing toward existential disaster, it is tempting to avoid musing on questions that might have terrifying answers.
Questions of our own mortality, not even as individuals, but as an entire species, as humanity staggers from crisis to epidemic with scary regularity, have become more pertinent and in need of answer than ever before in recent years.
Indeed, one of our greatest scientists, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, recently claimed that it would be strongly advisable for mankind to pack up its belongings and leave the blue planet we call Earth with all haste. Hawking estimates it will be necessary for us to colonise another planet in the solar system within the next 100 years if we’re to survive. He cites nuclear war, overpopulation and epidemics as very real dangers that could lead to the demise of planet Earth in the relative blink of an eye.
Perhaps as a consequence of this stark prediction, human kind has stepped up its efforts to colonise Mars, presumably in a bid to secure our continued existence as a species. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have committed themselves to this lofty goal, and NASA are also thought to be advancing their own plans to render Mars a habitable reality.
Meanwhile, though, NASA believe that they have discovered 10 Earth-like planets, and 219 new planets outside our solar system.
That total includes the 10 “rocky” planets similar to Earth, which are situated in what is known as the “Goldilocks zone” – defined by being neither too close nor too far away from their star; rendering them suitable for sustaining liquid water.
Unsurprisingly, the presence of water is considered a key component in the existence of life on a planet, leading to no small amount of intrigue over these newly discovered Earth-like bodies.
The new discoveries bring the number of exoplanets (planets that exist outside of our own solar system) to a total of more than 4,000 made by the telescope, while NASA has hailed the findings as having “significant implications” in the search for life outside of planet Earth in a statement:
“There are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.
Additionally, results using Kepler data suggest two distinct size groupings of small planets. Both results have significant implications for the search for life.”
The findings are fascinating for those of us compelled by the notion of existing life outside of the confines of our own planet. Indeed, there has probably not been such an exciting time in humanity’s brief history in space travel since the moon landings, with the endeavours of SpaceX and NASA bringing us ever closer to what, mere years ago, would have been considered an absurdity. Life on Mars, it’s the best selling show in town.