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NASA Discovers 7 New Exoplanets That Could Sustain Life
TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light years from Earth. It would take us millions of years to get there.
Back in September 2016, NASA announced that nearby exoplanet Proxima b might have what it takes to sustain life. In December however, it announced that it gets bombarded with “super flares” from time to time by its star, Proxima Centauri, and so perhaps isn’t the best candidate. It was a letdown for those of us who marvel at the thought of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy, but this latest announcement might just make up for it. The odds are better at least.
Astronomers have found seven exoplanets inhabiting a nearby star. Now known as the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, it resides about 40 light years away from Earth. Sounds close, but it would take us millions of years with conventional rocketry to reach it. NASA bigwigs recently made an announcement and held a press conference surrounding this discovery, from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The exoplanets revolve around an ultra-cool dwarf star, 10 times smaller than our sun. This newly discovered solar system is located in the constellation Aquarius. These seven planets are all potentially habitable, according to findings published in the journal Nature. They’re each about the size of Earth, which could mean a liquid surface and an atmosphere. More encouraging still, they’re all also within the habitable "Goldilocks" zone: not to cool, and not too hot.
By: ESO [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Our solar system is spread out by comparison. This cramped little system finds each planet’s orbit closer to their star, TRAPPIST-1, than Mercury is to ours. Of all the planets discovered, TRAPPIST-1f is the most likely to sustain life, NASA scientists say. Those closer planets may be too hot to contain liquid water, while those beyond may be too cold.
Michaël Gillon is an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium. He told NPR, "If you were on the surface of one of these planets, you would see the other ones as we see the moon, or a bit smaller." On the surface of TRAPPIST-1f for instance, its sun would appear three times larger than ours. Yet, you’d receive 200 times less light from it, and you’d bask in red rather than white light. Krypton perhaps?
Last May, NASA scientists found three planets around TRAPPIST-1. After closer examination, they discovered four more, using the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers spotted these due to a dimming that occurs when a planet crosses in front of a star. In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will be placed in a specific location a million miles from Earth, giving astronomers’ unparalleled views, and exceptional capabilities never before obtainable. Astronomers will not only be able to detect large exoplanets, they’ll be able to prove whether or not a particular one has an atmosphere, by observing whether or not starlight filters through in a certain way.
Artist’s rendition on what it might be like on such a planet.
Amaury Triaud is an astronomer at Cambridge University and an author on this study. "I think we've made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” he said. "I don't think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know." More study might yield other information such as whether or not TRAPPIST-1f's surface contains liquid methane, which might sustain some forms of life, or even water.
One fact however may stymie the search for E.T., in this solar system. Many of these planets, being so close to their star, are likely to be bombarded with ultraviolet radiation. Yet, this discovery, even if it doesn’t lead to alien life, which it still might, nevertheless hearten our search for it. It shows how common such exoplanets in the “Goldilocks” zone may be in our galaxy, even beyond. Another interesting consideration, this star, since it burns so slowly, will likely outlive ours by a trillion years. So if the Earth is vanquished and the situation is right, we may find a new Eden on TRAPPIST-1f.
To see NASA’s presentation for yourself, click here:
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.