Science Babble: Exoplanets (Part 1)
Not a lot of everyday people know much about the solar system. We think it is quite small (that's what she said?) and we have found all we have needed to find here. Some say that is true, even when the so-called "Nemesis" right outside our solar system.
It is thought that, because of disruptions in the Oort Cloud (spherical shell-like cloud the houses the solar system), the odd orbits of Pluto and other dwarf planets out there in the Kuiper Belt, and the unusual violent outbreaks of asteroids being shoved into the solar system, a failed Brown Dwarf star lurks out somewhere out there.
We obviously can't spot it as of yet since it is so cool and none of the sun's light would bounce off of it (and it may not even exist and also, that's what she said... okay I am done).
Our Happy Neighborhood
Even though Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, might have liquid oceans under its sheets of ice, I truly believe, with all the technology we have now, we are putting the knowhow to use on the right locations in space. Unless an amateur astronomer discovers another planet within this solar system, we are doing the right thing by searching the celestial neighborhood for other planets, i.e. extrasolar or exoplanets.
With our technology right now, we are detecting planets that are up to 20,000 light years away or 1.1731392 × 10^17 miles away. What is that number exactly? Try this: 117,313,920,000,000,000 miles. That is one hundred and seventeen quintillion, three hundred and thirteen quadrillion, nine hundred and twenty trillion miles away.
I would like to think, the search for better technology to assist the search for exoplanets was highly boosted by the Cassini spacecraft when it got up close and personal with one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. Although the first exoplanet was discovered in 1995, the Cassini mission was ten years later and had the worlds attention back on space exploration.
For the first time in human history, we not only realized that moons of cold gas giants could harbor life from their tidal lock but moons could have liquid on its surface. Given, it rains liquid methane on Titans surface, hovering around -300F. So, if you don’t have your umbrella, it would be similar to being rained on by cherry pancakes... that is cold enough to burn you and freeze your entire body instantly, if you weren't already frozen first... wear a sweater, you might catch a cold!
A freezing, instant deathly cold. Oh God.
H-Z to the Izzo
Once the number of confirmed exoplanets started to increase, there started to be talks of the habitable zone (HZ) around the host star and the importance of the star type. Obviously, if it is a white dwarf, the HZ would be very close to the star because it needs to keep a consistent temperature (which could also cause problems when it comes to radiation, etc).
If the habitable zone was around a red giant, the HZ would be equivalent to Jupiter to Saturn’s orbit. We are considered to be on the warmer part of the “Goldilocks” zone. Get it, not too hot, not too-- I think you get it. This zone is also called Goldilocks because of our star’s class, a spectral class G2V, is a medium sized, main sequence star. Because it is smaller and in its prime of its gas burning life, it will continuously pump out heat and energy while doing it over a longer period of time. That, my friends, is great for planet formation.
The main goal when searching for exoplanets is to find them the right size, one to two times the size of Earth, aka Super Earths, chillin’ in the HZ. Also, it would be nice to know that at only four light years away, there is a place for us to go if something dramatically devastating happens to our planet. Given, it would just be easier to go and colonize Mars but it would involve Terraforming and poopy weather.
It is just a little more fun to know that there is another planet out there to capture our imagination and to give us hope. We haven’t had public excitement for space exploration since the 1960s. We are long due and hopefully, the search for exoplanets is exactly what our imagination needs
Find Your Own Exoplanets, Name Them Harold, Which Is Your Name
For the first time in human history, we know for certain the existence of planets around other stars.