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How many alien planets have we discovered and how many planets have water or life?

Published: 27 AUG 2018 09:23AM

Words by AC Speed | Senior Editor

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It’s only in the last 2 decades that we’ve really been discovering alien planets and alien planetary systems on such a large scale with such details about their composition, landscape, and if these alien worlds have liquid water and oceans that may be able to support life.

In 2009, NASA, launched the Kepler Space Telescope, an orbital observatory capable of scanning the night sky for alien worlds similar to Earth. The mission was originally set to last just 3 years, however, the Kepler Space Telescope is still scanning the skies for alien worlds almost a decade later. It is however on its last legs and is expected to run out of fuel on the next couple of months.

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Kepler looks for Earth-sized planets orbiting stars similar to our own Sun, these planets are called exoplanets, which simply means a planet orbiting a star outside of our solar system.

How many exoplanets have we discovered?


It’s only recently that science has started to accept the fact that there could be other worlds similar to ours in the Universe, so when Keplar started to discover exoplanets it shocked the scientific community.

To date, NASA has discovered 6,515 candidates that could be exoplanets. That’s 6,515 potential alien worlds in our universe!

So far, NASA has confirmed that 3,778 of these candidates are in fact alien exoplanets planets orbiting a star. That’s nearly 4000 other alien planets out there in the universe that could be home to intelligent life!

How many exoplanets are similar to Earth?


As you can imagine, all of these planets have a wide range of characteristics, features, and compositions.

We have found 148 planets that are known as terrestrial planets, which are essentially planets that are comprised of a molten heavy metal core, few moons, and topological features such as valleys, volcanoes, and craters. Most of them are of a similar size to Earth also.

These planets include TRAPPIST-1 b & e, Kepler-138 b, and K2-89. Unfortunately, the planets are named after letters of the alphabet, with the planetary system being named after the telescope that made the discovery, not very exciting, but they are still alien planets nonetheless!

We’ve also found 979 super-Earths! Which are planets with a higher mass than Earth, but lower than some of the giants we know of such as Jupiter and Neptune.

How many alien exoplanets have water present?


We’ve actually discovered dozens of planets that have either liquid or ice water or water present in the atmosphere of the planet. We recently discovered huge ice deposits on our closest neighbour, Mars! We’ve now also confirmed that there is also water ice present on the polar regions of our very own moon! [1]

We’ve even discovered huge oceans on Saturn’s moon, Titan, so we could have alien oceans teeming with life at our very doorstep! [2]

"If we find lots of planets like ours…we’ll know it’s likely that we aren’t alone, and that someday we might be able to join other intelligent life in the universe.” - William Borucki, principal investigator for NASA's Kepler mission


How many alien exoplanets have alien life?


So, we haven’t exactly discovered little green men staring back at us through their own telescope yet. We have, however, discovered several planets that show signs of having alien life.

These planets give off signatures in their atmosphere through spectral analysis, such as methane, which could indicate the presence of life. Most likely small microbial life but this is a very important discovery as it shows life can thrive in other parts of the universe.

Only recently, NASA found evidence of ancient organic material on Mars meaning it could have supported life billions of years ago. [3]

Summary


To date, we’ve found almost 4000 planets orbiting stars in their own planetary system, many of the planets have water and signs of simply organic life. We’ve even discovered huge oceans on Saturn's moon, and vast amounts of ice on Mars alongside ancient organic material. We are definitely, not alone.

[1] Water Ice Confirmed on the Surface of the Moon for the 1st Time!
[2] Saturn's moon Titan has a very salty ocean
[3] NASA Finds Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane on Mars

Media Resource://Exoplanet Archive NASA

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