Future Tech: How to find habitable exoplanets in the universe

In today’s episode I talk about how to find potentially habitable exoplanets in the universe. When looking for potentially habitable exoplanets, it helps to start with worlds similar to our own. But what does “similar” mean? Many Earth-sized rocky planets have been discovered: this suggests the possibility of life. Based on what we observe in our own solar system, it seems unlikely that a large gaseous world like Jupiter would provide habitable conditions. But most of these Earth-sized worlds orbit red dwarf stars. Earth-sized planets in wide orbits around Sun-like stars are harder to spot. We’ve discovered so many of them in the universe, after we thought Earth was the only potentially habitable planet. But after 2009, when the Kepler telescope launched into space, that spacecraft has been finding countless habitable, well, potentially habitable exoplanets.So tune in to find out how we find them!

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Here’s the transcript from this podcast episode, please excuse any typos!

For over a century we’ve been broadcasting signals into space, right there and the Voyager One and Two in the 1970s were launched and sending us images of distant planets and these signals that we’ve been sending out, are reaching the far reaches of the universe, but it takes time right? It takes light years to reach these distant places, some places that we want to reach my ticket 1000 Light Years and so we’re never going to in our lifetime will never be able to see what that’s like. So it’s very hard to even detect these exoplanets in the first place. One of the methods that NASA or scientists in general astrophysicist use is they can see when an exoplanet passes in front of a star or their sun, and it dims it a little bit right. So for people who are listening and not watching what I’m doing right now, as I’m putting my a couple of fingers in front of my hand, which is circular, and kind of just covering it up. So if an exoplanet passes over the exoplanet think of when E T. And the bicycle with Elliot was going over the moon, right? They were flying over the moon and they were kind of covering the moon and you know in that way so an exoplanet does the same thing that covers the star or the sun. And then we can detect that dim moment and see how it kind of messes with the star and that refraction or that deflection tells us there’s something there moving in front of it. And it’s typically an exoplanet and usually when you see the star being dim, you can usually tell the distance from the star because of how often it happens.

So the radius and the distance from the star based on how often it is basically going in rotation. So those electromagnetic waves and the signals that we’ve sent out will take about 70 years to travel out into space or 70 light years away. So what we can say is that size if we’re looking in that 70 light year radius, because we know that we can potentially reach those areas, and are there any potentially habitable planets there? And what I found is that astronomers have found roughly 100 exoplanets within the lightyear radius. That’s a lot. But out of those exoplanets, the ones they found that were potentially habitable, they found about 13. Still a lot there’s potentially 13 Earths. Now there’s a misconception about what potentially habitable means, like there has to be some sort of life-forming chemicals, gasses, minerals, water, you know, there has to be the right concoction, the right cocktail, I should say of the right stuff. To create life. So we don’t really know if these exoplanets are potentially habitable. We’re just theorizing based on certain evidence that we might have from telescopes and the spacecraft we have that sends us imagery, we’re able to detect infrared waves and heat and things like that. So maybe there’s a way to detect the chemicals, the gasses from certain spacecraft that visit near exoplanets or planets in general. But one of the easiest ways to figure out if a planet is potentially habitable is how far away it is from the star that it isn’t orbiting with. If it’s too close it’s going to be like fried chicken. And if it’s too far away, it’s going to be like Elsa in Frozen. So it has to be right in the middle. You know, it’s like Earth so we have nice temperatures, and life can grow. You know, plants can grow. Animals and potentially humanoid beings can also thrive. On this planet that has the right temperature. Now with the James Webb Space Telescope, we can start to see atmospheres on these exoplanets, which they did recently they were able to find an exoplanet with water vapor.

I mean, that is potentially groundbreaking. I mean, I know NASA and everybody that is involved in the space community is extremely excited to find water vapor on any planet. Because this means that there might be organisms there might be life on that planet because we all know water is the bringer of life. So they’re not sure of course, but now with the James Webb Space Telescope and other devices and crap since telescopes we have we’re on Mars, we’re finding organisms on Mars. We’re finding old rivers used to be there on Mars, icecaps, we’re finding tons and tons of evidence now that they’re either was at some point life on other planets, where that there may still be life on planet so we’re just not sure because you know, our technology is advanced, but not that advanced. We’re getting to that point though, where we can start seeing if there’s carbon dioxide and oxygen and nitrogen and hydrogen and helium and all these different glasses and chemicals on these planets, and depending on that atmosphere we might be able to see it, there’s life. One of the things that I think is kind of funny when it comes to exoplanets is that people don’t think about this, but you should zoom out. Wherever you’re sitting right now, wherever you’re walking to or you’re at the gym. You’re at home watching TV or listening to my podcast. Zoom out. You’re not where you are. You are on a floating rock called Earth traveling through space.

As we talk right now, as you hear this, we could be an exoplanet to another civilization in another galaxy or another part of the universe. We don’t know they might be looking at our Earth, bringing them over the sun and sailing. There’s an exoplanet. We don’t know if it has the same atmosphere. Maybe they can figure it out. Maybe they’re not advanced. Galileo in the 1600s had this primitive telescope he created and he was able to find the planets. Maybe there. It’s the 1600s for them, and they just discovered a telescope and they can start seeing earth. You know, that’s the cool thing about this is the exoplanets and the universe out there. The galaxies out there. There’s so vast I mean, there’s trillions of stars, you know, trillions upon trillions of stars, probably billions of exoplanets out there. And we don’t know if we’re being observed by another planet as we’re the exoplanet so it takes time for light to travel to us. You know, for example, if you want to see a distant exoplanet, it might take 1000 light years for that. The visible entity comes to us for us to see it. And by the time we see it 1000 Light Years have passed, the planet might be gone, the sun might have you know, had a catastrophic solar flare and wiped out their technology and, and they went into the dark ages and everyone perished. We don’t know. Because by the time we see what we’re seeing, it’s already done. It’s over. 1000 Light Years have passed. The passage of time through the universe is harsh. And that’s another thing. What we see when we see the exoplanets is we’re looking back in time, we’re seeing what the exoplanet did look like at one point. So even if we were able to find life on a planet by the time the light of those images reaches us, it’s too late. They might have evolved, they might have, they might be gone. So that’s the other thing too, that people forget about is what we’re seeing is what happened at one point in space, not real time, but as NASA and other scientists have said, finding exoplanets and habitable zones like 10 to 20% of them, because there’s usually too much carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide or other toxic gasses on these planets. And if you are too close to the star, so, you know we are you know, the chances of us finding what it’s going to be really slim but there is a chance because that 10 to 20% means that maybe out of 100 planets, there’s 10 Like we sent me 13 That might have life. Maybe one of them does, maybe two of them don’t. But we’re looking and our technology is getting better. Kepler is out there. The Voyagers are out there, all the Mars robots are out there. JW St. James Webb Space Telescope is out there. our ground telescopes, our International Space Station soon to be a moon base. We’re in space , we are an inter stellar interplanetary species. and we are searching and we’re coming for you out there life wherever you are hiding to break out your welcome mats, aliens, we will be seeing you sometime in the future, hopefully. And as always, I hope you guys enjoyed this episode if you have any other comments or feedback about exoplanets. I’d love to hear it, put them in there, I’ll always answer, and I’ll see you guys in the next episode.

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Jason Sherman