We recently wrote about Kepler-22b, which so far is the planet most likely to host life that we know of, other than Earth. This discovery made by the Kepler telescope sparkled the imagination of many, and people already started thinking about ‘contact’. However, even though it’s great to dream, and the planet has a decent chance of hosting life, we must remain realistic and put things into context.
Researchers continue to be skeptical, especially since we only know of one place in the Universe that hosts life.
“There are big hurdles that life has to get over, and we don’t know how big a hurdle the origin of life itself is,” sayd Dr Lewis Dartnell, of the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL. “You simply can’t tell with a single datum – you can’t do stats when N=1 [only one planet – Earth].”
Of course, there are ongoing efforts to help figure out more about this planet; first step: determine its composition. It is still unclear if Kepler-22b is a super-Earth, made out of rocks like the ground beneath our feet, a gas planet, much like Saturn and Jupiter, or a planet covered with deep oceans; and researchers are trying to find out what are the odds of life existing there by searching somewhere else, in our very own solar system.
“The interesting thing will be when we go to Mars and Europa and see whether there are bacteria there. It would be enormously significant if life is found there,” says Dr Dartnell. “But the next step, once Kepler has looked at a lot of planets, will be to see what their atmospheres are made of, using infrared spectroscopy.”
From what we know so far, the only thing we can say for sure is … that we don’t know. Life may be extremely unlikely. It may only appear in extremely rare conditions. Or perhaps it’s simple, and reproducing cells which result in bacteria are fairly common throughout the Universe.
Still, regardless of this, it’s extremely unlikely to host evolved life. Even though it is 600 light years away, and we are literally seeing the planet as it was 600 years ago, it is unlikely that advanced life has evolved on this planet. Even so, it is the first planet found in the habitable zone, and an extremely interesting find which bolsters the hopes of finding alien life.