Extrasolar Planets: Earthlings Survival Plan
Anyone can look at the stars and wonder what lies in space. All of the stars seen are suns, many of which house planets beyond our solar system. These planets that lie beyond our solar system have been named extrasolar planets, or exoplanets. These planets are the focus of astronomers and astrophysicists over the entire world. Since the discovery of the first extrasolar planets, scientists have been scrambling to discover more. Most scientists argue that there needs to be a move in the disciple to the characterization of the planets instead of discovering new planets and knowing so little about them. The discovery of over 400 extrasolar planets since the beginning of 2010 begs the questions, what do we do with this information, and how does it apply to human being’s existence? The answers to these questions are not necessarily simple; but primarily, there needs to be additional research done to understand the planets, the host-stars, and the systems as a whole. This will lead scientists to determining the habitability of these new planets and their distance in relation to earth. With the addition of new knowledge to the scientific community, some argue that this knowledge simply means advances in the understanding of the universe. Others argue that extrasolar planets are the key to new worlds and new life. Research shows that extrasolar planets may be the salvation for human beings when the earth dies because there is evidence of habitable planets beyond our solar system, and that moving planets may become necessary for the propagation of the human species. There are new technologies for examining and understanding these new planets and determining their properties. By determining the properties of the newly discovered extrasolar planets, scientists will be able to determine if life may exist or if the planet is even capable for supporting life. Obviously, exoplanets are the key to a new world and helping further human beings’ species lifetime in the universe, because there are habitable planets beyond our solar system, there are scientists furthering their understanding of these earth like planets, and moving planets may be necessary and even possible soon.Scientists know that extrasolar planets exist and are numerous in the universe. Lammer, along with 26 other colleagues of distinguished scientific backgrounds wrote about their research on exoplanets (extrasolar planets). They stated that there were, “more than 400 planets beyond our Solar System,” and this was as of February 18, 2010 (Lammer et all, Status 290). This comment shows how abundant these extra solar planets are. This is important to the human species because this statement allows there to be possibilities for colonization to another planet. Lammer and his colleagues are showing the world that there are many planets outside of the solar system; thus, disputing those who say that our solar system is the only one in the universe. There is likelihood with the amount of extrasolar planets that there is life on one, or the possibility for human beings to travel there and begin a new life on a new “earth”. The fact of a new “earth” becomes important because according to Fraser Cain, a publisher of Universe Today, “we have less than a billion years to enjoy the surface of our planet before it becomes inhospitable;” he goes on to talk about the sun heating up which will make humans’ life on earth impossible (1). Though we have less than a billion years before the sun heats up too high, there is time to develop the technology to move planets. Cain is a co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer interested in extrasolar planets. Cain, unlike other astronomers, looks to see what time humans have on earth and possible solution for humans to divert the inevitable end that he says will occur within the next billion years. What Cain does not address is the current state of earth and the treatment of earth by humans now. An argument could be made that there is less time before the earth loses its’ resources and becomes a dead rock due to humans’ abuse to the earth. This argument is what makes moving planets that much more appealing; there would be more room, more resources, and more opportunities to grow food for the population humans cannot sustain on earth any longer. Extrasolar planets are the key to survival when the technology becomes available.
The knowledge of extrasolar planets’ existence is not enough to make the decision to move planets. Many scientists, including Dr. Rudolf Dvorak of The Institute for Astronomy, of The University of Vienna, focus on characterizing these planets based on simple criteria. Dr. Dvorak tells readers about the different methods of detecting EPS (Extrasolar Planetary Systems), which leads to the characterization of the discovered planets. The different methods, according to Dvorak, are “photometry of the host star, radial velocity measurements, astrometric measurements, gravitational lensing, and direct imaging,” which essentially all focus on the orbital properties of these extrasolar planets and the host star of the discovered extrasolar planets (46). This data helps scientists compare the extrasolar planets to Earth and distinguish the possibly habitable planets from the non-habitable planets. Dvorak goes on to talk about the host star being the most important information because of the distance from the planet to the star establishes if water, in liquid form, may be found on the planet. Lammer, in a different article titled “What makes a Planet Habitable”, states, “in all cases the stellar habitable zone is a spherical shell around a main sequence star where a planet with an atmosphere can support liquid water at a given time,” meaning water is a vital resource to life as we know it (183). Lammer’s comment makes the conclusion that a planet in the habitable zone requires water on the surface. This makes sense because the human body, as well as other mammals, needs water to survive and to support the vital organs that keep one alive. Penn State wrote an article, found on Science Daily, called “Water Detected on a Planet outside Our Solar System. This article, because it was written by a university, which is held to standards of peer review, is reliable. The article states that water was found on Mars, one of earth’s closest neighbors. This fact shows that there is a high possibility of water on other planets that are near or in the habitable zone of extrasolar planetary systems. The discovery of water on an extrasolar planet would provide hope for life, or at least the ability to sustain life; more research needs to be done to determine the types of planets that may house water outside of the solar system. Just as Lammer and colleagues focus on characterization, J.P Beaulieu and G. Tinetti state, “planetary scientists and astronomers are increasingly called upon9 to make the transition from discovery to characterization,” showing the progression of the field (165). This statement boldly shows the transition in the disciple revolving round extra solar planets. Beaulieu and Tinetti are astrophysicists from Europe who compiled this paper for an astrophysics conference where other scientists reviewed their findings. Moving from discovering to characterization is a key element to deciphering which planets may be habitable for humans and planets that are beyond the realm of human interactions. Many scientists have stated that many of the extrasolar planets are gas giants, much like Jupiter, and therefore would not sustain life as earth does. Beaulieu and Tinetti continue to talk about problems with current technology and the advances in techniques they use to characterize the extrasolar planets. The two main techniques Beaulieu and Tinetti write on are, “Broad band or low resolution spectroscopy from a space based observatory” and “High resolution spectroscopy from ground based observatories in the optical and NIR,” both of which reveal different things about the planet. This will then lead sciences to target planets that are further away and harder to see; the goal is still to characterize these far off planets. If that technology is to advance that far, what is stopping the deep space travel of humans? The argument is made there will be little to stop the advances to enable humans to explore these far off planets face to face.
The main consensus of the research is that there may be life out there on these distant planets, or at least the possibility of humans to live on said planets. Alan Boss, an astrophysicist and NASA scientists, address the conundrum of the possibility of life beyond earth. The book Crowded Universe talks about the evolution of the disciple of extrasolar planets. The epilogue is titled, “Why Don’t You Ever Call?” and it talks about Fermi’s Paradox, which states, “If intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Galaxy, why haven’t we heard from it yet?” (206). This is a question many scientists ask when asked if life beyond earth exists. Boss goes on to talk about Fermi and George Wetherill (the scientists Boss dedicated his book to because of his research) relationship and what it meant to Wetherill’s research. Boss’s answer to Fermi’s Paradox is “that intelligent civilizations are born to die, just like individual human beings,” meaning he does not dispute intelligent life may exist, but it may never get to the point of technology to communicate with other planet’s life forms (207). Boss argues that civilizations die, just as ones on earth have before some other group takes over and rebuilds; thus, life is possible beyond earth, even if human beings never definitively find it. By this argument, the argument of life sustaining planets, besides earth, is possible and even probable. Dimitar D. Sasselov, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and the director of The Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, writes The Life of Super-Earths: How the hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet. In the chapter “The Future of Life” Sasselov makes the statement, “A planet is not a home to life…the planet and the life on it are the same thing,” arguing that life is a phenomenon of life is unique to the planet that the life lives on (155). This argument can be expounded to mean “life” only occurs because of the lack of life on other planets; in simpler terms, until other “life” is discovered life on earth is the essence of earth. Sasselov goes on to talk about the chemical process of life, but he argues that life is only possible because of the conditions earth provides, i.e. gravity, atmosphere, and water. His statements are contradictory to that of Boss’s because Boss talks about the possibility of life beyond earth, whereas Sasselov talks about earth being the only place for life as it currently stands.
The characterization of planets has sparked a new sub-field in astronomy and astrology; astrobiology is an emerging field. According to Rudolf Dvorak, author of “Extrasolar planets – A challenge for Astronomy,” astrobiology “is a new branch connecting Astronomy, Biology and other natural sciences,” consequently becoming a “hot topic/field for scientists (50-51). With new telescopes and advances in imaging, astrobiologists will be able to search for biomarkers and determine if life exists on a planet. Dvorak does not continue to expound on the field of astrobiology in his article, but with any new branch of science there are discoveries to be made and advances in technology and understanding to be revealed. With the possibilities of new discoveries, scientists eagerly await the advancements needed to collect precise and better data from the extrasolar planets. Dvorak closes his paper with one final sentence, “The hunt for finding the second Earth is opened!” meaning there is one out there and scientists will eventually find it (51). Once it is found, it is only a matter of time before space missions start planning to do up close and personal investigations, technology allotted of course.
Extrasolar planets were a myth and mystery not too long ago. As of 2010 over 400 planets have been found outside of our current solar system. Of these 400 planets, scientists have started to look more closely to understand the extrasolar planetary system; they attempt to understand the components of the planet as well as the habitability of the planet. The habitability plays heavily into the fact that earth is dying and the sun is heating up. There is a race to find the second earth and the extrasolar planets are the key to human beings’ survival. Scientists argue between the notion of other intelligent life in the universe and most suspect there is life beyond earth. However, as Alan Boss states in his book, civilizations are meant to die off – ours included. This leaves the possibility that no intelligent life has progressed far enough to communicate beyond its’ own planet. Sasselov argues life only exists because the conditions of earth allow it to exist. By this, he does not mean no other life exists, but a planet would have to be similar to earth’s gravity, atmosphere, and accommodations to support intelligent life. Dvorak, at the end of his paper, talks of a new scientific disciple that extrasolar planets have created astrobiology. Since this is a new branch of the natural sciences, discoveries are meant to be made and there is much to learn about our distant neighbors. Astrobiologists would focus on the habitability of the planets, much like Lammer’s article “What makes a planet Habitable.” Lammer talks about aspects of earth that sustain life, easily transitioning to astrobiology and the identification of habitable extrasolar planets. Astrobiology also focuses on the identification of biomarkers, which can interfere with readings astrologists look at when analyzing the atmosphere of distant extrasolar planets. With the advancements in new technology, astrologists will be able to “peer” into an extrasolar planet and from there the possibilities are endless. All of these aspects are what make extrasolar planets a “hot topic” in science. Scientists’ discoveries and accomplishments just show that extrasolar planets are not only the future of astrology, astrobiology, and other natural sciences, but of the human race. As our planet and sun slowly die out, just as every other sun does when it is time, humans are faced with the decision: stay and die, or move away and propagate the species elsewhere. The logical choice becomes moving planets and either terraforming, or changing the planet to be like earth, or finding a planet so similar to earth the transition becomes natural and easy. The research shows finding a new earth becomes the most viable option for the continuation of the human species and progression as life, on earth, as we know it.
Beaulieu, J. P., and G. Tinetti. "Probing The Atmosphere Of Transiting Extrasolar Planets." EAS Publications Series 33. (2008): 165-173. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Boss, Alan. The Crowded Universe: The Search For Living Planets. New York: Basic Books, 2009. (2, 206). eBook. Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Cain, Fraser. "How Long Will Life Survive on Earth." Universe Today (2013): 1. Http://www.universetoday.com/25367/how-long-will-life-survive-on-earth/. 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Dvorak, Rudolf. "Extrasolar Planets—A Challenge For Astronomy." AIP Conference Proceedings 1076.1 (2008): 43-52. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Lammer, H., et al. "What Makes A Planet Habitable?." Astronomy & Astrophysics Review 17.2 (2009): 181-249. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
---, et al. "Exoplanet Status Report: Observation, Characterization And Evolution Of Exoplanets And Their Host Stars." Solar System Research 44.4 (2010): 290-310. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Penn State. "Water Detected in a Planet outside Our Solar System." Science Daily (n.d.): 1. Http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140225101737.htm. 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Sasselov, Dimitar D. The Life Of Super-Earths : How The Hunt For Alien Worlds And Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life On Our Planet. New York: Basic Books, 2012. (87-98) eBook. Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 4 Apr. 2014.