Is There a “Super Earth” in Our Future?

The second in a series debating the worth of space exploration

Simone Lilavois

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Artist’s concept of Kepler-442 b. Source: NASA

What if humanity managed to unite and as a global government we invested all our resources in finding and reaching a new planet?

Then the question becomes, what planet?

There aren’t any options in our solar system. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that’s in the habitable zone. The habitable zone is a certain distance away from a star where a given planet within that range of distance could have liquid water on its surface and potentially harbor life. Venus is too close to the sun and Mars is too far, but Earth on the other hand, is just right.

The planet we choose would have to be an exoplanet that’s as Earth-like as possible. We have to consider many factors, including the orbital eccentricity, period, and radius, the mass and density of the planet, and the type and phase of the host star, as well as the distance the planet is from Earth.

The Transit method

The Transit method is a way of discovering exoplanets. A planet can reduce the observed brightness of a given star if it passes directly between the star and the observer’s line of sight. Sensitive enough instruments can actually detect this minor decrease in the star’s brightness. Based on how long the planet decreases its host star’s brightness and how much the brightness is decreased, the orbit and size of the planet can be determined. For example, larger planets will produce a larger effect, and vice-versa.

One of the most promising candidates is Kepler-442 b. Discovered in 2015 using the Transit method, it’s considered a “super-Earth.” Super-Earths are a class of planets that are more massive than Earth, yet they are lighter than ice giants like Neptune. They can be composed of gas, rock or a combination of both, and are between twice the size of Earth and up to 10 times its mass. They are unlike any planet in our solar system.

Let’s go over what makes Kepler-442 b such a good choice.

Density

First off, our planet needs a solid surface. Now you might be thinking, “Don’t all planets have a surface? Isn’t that a given?” As weird as it sounds…

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Simone Lilavois

Simone Lilavois is a NYC high school student passionate about understanding the nature of life in relation to the Cosmos.