Chief Science Correspondent
As NASA announces the discovery of “mega-Earth” planet (Kepler-10c) on Monday, the existence of extraterrestrial life appears more likely than ever.
Kepler-10c is located in the Draco constellation, approximately 560 light-years from Earth. The planet is named after the Kepler spacecraft, which is currently searching for planets that could potentially support life. Over 2,700 planets have been identified to date, with 105 confirmed.
However, what makes Kepler-10c unique is its size, as it is 17-fold heavier than Earth. This magnitude of mass was thought to be impossible for rocky planets at the time of the planet’s estimated creation, which would have taken place approximately three million years after the Big Bang.
This discovery is important because it suggests old stars can host planets that are ideal for supporting life, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researcher Dimitar Sasselov said in a statement.
“Rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought," Sasselov said. “And if you can make rocks, you can make life."
Current research is providing a growing mass of support for the existence of life outside of Earth. A recent poll by National Geographic suggests Americans are becoming more open to the idea of extraterrestrial life, as 77 percent of Americans believe there are signs that aliens could have visited Earth. As a point of reference, a recent Harris poll found 68 percent of Americans believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
A fairly popular belief is that the government has known about the existence of aliens, but has hidden the evidence as an attempt to prevent the public from knowing about it. To get a sense of the magnitude of thought some people have put into these arguments, Google “alien government conspiracies.”
The public’s focus on government cover-ups and popular ideas based on science fiction, rather than the science and research in support of it, may be actually hindering the field because astrobiology is not always taken seriously – even by the people who help financially support it.
At a House Science Committee hearing last week, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence senior astronomist Seth Shostak and SETI director Dan Werthimer spoke on the various strategies researchers are using the search for life forms. The intention of the hearing was to help dispel popular myths about aliens
What did Rep. Chris Collins find most important about the talk? The team’s opinion on the show Ancient Aliens.
As long as we continue to view astrobiology as science fiction, we will never be able to try to understand it.
I never thought seriously about life outside Earth until last October, when I attended a lecture by University of Honolulu astrobiologist Stephen Freeland, who presented a statistical model based on the origin and evolution of the genetic code on Earth to demonstrate the likely existence of extraterrestrial life forms.
“Life has evolved such diversity that modern biology is challenged to find the limits for cellular life,” Freeland said.
Freeland’s lecture opened my eyes to the work that has gone into these investigations, and has inspired a great personal admiration for the field. I only hope that as these scientists continue to communicate their work with the public, we can all work to respect and attempt to understand it.
Current research suggests we will likely discover these life forms within 20 years. Although the
future is impossible to predict, it is time we all worked to open our minds to learning about these new, exciting ideas that may redefine what life is and how we all fit within it.