When NASA announced they would be holding a press conference today at noon regarding a key discovery outside of our solar system, I was excited. Like, excited enough to mark my calendar to watch the announcement like.
I wanted to be there when astronomers announced that evidence of extraterrestrial life had been found.
The news ended up being a little different than that. It wasn’t an announcement about aliens; rather, several planets that are likely to be similar to earth have been discovered around a much newer star called TRAPPIST-1. It’s 40 light years away.
The announcement was still really exciting. Now that astronomers have identified these planets, they can watch them really closely to learn about–to the best of their ability–what’s happening on those planets. Are there oceans? Are the gasses in the atmosphere similar to ours?
The planet most likely to be suitable for life is TRAPPIST-1f. The entire solar system is a lot more tightly packed than ours, so the same side of the planet always faces its sun; that is, one side is always day and one side is always night. Also, an entire year on that planet passes in only 9.21 days. Yet astronomers posit that the environment of the planet could be very similar to Earth’s.
It made me realize that if scientists ever had hard evidence of life on another planet, it would be well beyond my lifetime before that evidence would be photographed. It would take so long for a vessel to get anywhere close enough to capture such images.
It also made me realize that if there’s more advanced life than ours already in existence (which I think it quite likely), if it noticed that there’s life on Earth, the first vessel it would send would probably be completely automated. It would come here to survey, not to communicate with us. So if we’re lucky enough to actually see it, what would we actually do? Hold up some signs in a language they can’t read?
What do you think would happen if astronomers got close enough to TRAPPIST-1f to conclusively identify life on the planet?