NASA has found what they are calling the "Holy Grail" in their search for extraterrestrial life, and though they haven't found conclusive proof of life on other planets, the agency announced at a Monday press conference that they've moved one step closer to that goal.
As The Independent reports, NASA's Kepler mission, which since its launch in 2009 has been scanning the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, has found the most promising signs yet that humanity is on the verge of discovering life on other planets. Specifically, the mission found seven planets orbiting a star, TRAPPIST-1. Three of those planets meet the two most important conditions to support life: they are rocky (as opposed to being gaseous or liquid), and they lie in what is called the star's "temperate zone" -- that is, the hypothetical band around star in which temperatures and levels of radiation would be neither too high nor too low to sustain life.
Even more enticing: all three of those planets are believed to be similar in size to Earth.
British astronomer Dr Chris Copperwheat isn't mincing words when it comes to how exciting this find could be in the search for extraterrestrial life.
"The discovery of multiple rocky planets with surface temperatures which allow for liquid water make this amazing system an exciting future target in the search for life."
Sistema TRAPPIST-1A 39,5 años luzAs in all promising areas of scientific research, however, it's still too early to draw conclusions, and of course, more research is needed. In the coming months and years, scientists will scan the planets for other signs that they support life: specifically, they'll be looking for the presence of oxygen. If oxygen molecules in the right concentrations are found in the atmosphere of one or more of the planets, it could be almost certain that there is life there.
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— parador08 (@parador08) November 29, 2017
Co-researcher Dr. Amaury Triaud says he hopes there will be confirmation one way or the other within the next decade.
Another exciting possibility -- and one that humanity as we know it may likely never live to see -- is the idea that the planets may be devoid of life now, but that life may be evolving there even as these words are being typed. TRAPPIST-1's solar system is a relatively new one, and the star may continue to burn for another ten trillion years. Our own solar system will have been gone for billions of years by then.
The first planet outside of our own solar system was discovered in 1992. Since that time, over 3,700 other exoplanets have been detected. Most are believed to be unable to support life for one or more reasons.