In late 2010, news media were abuzz about a very distant planet that astronomers thought might be just right for life because it appeared to be orbiting in the “habitable zone” of its star.1 Headlines referred to it as a Goldilocks planet, because it was possibly “not too hot and not too cold” for liquid water on its surface.
After the initial interest waned, however, the find was largely forgotten. Now another planet is at the media forefront as the latest hope for life beyond earth.
Astronomers using NASA’s $600-million Kepler telescope—launched in 2009—examined “2,326 potential planets in its first 16 months of operation.”2 Of those, Reuters reported that the researchers confirmed that “10 are roughly Earth-size and reside in their host stars’ habitable zones.”3 One is named Kepler-22b, and its radius is about 2.4 times that of earth.
“If Kepler-22b has a surface and a cushion of atmosphere similar to Earth’s, it would be about 72 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to Reuters.3 And if the planet has a rocky surface, rather than gas like most extrasolar planets, then it might hold liquid water near the surface.
But even if this were verified, which is not currently possible, liquid water would be only one of hundreds of conditions required for life.4 Given enough outer space objects to investigate, it makes sense that at least some of them would inhabit the habitable zone. So, why all the excitement over this particular planet?
The answer is the possibility of “intelligent aliens.”2….
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