Wednesday at 1 pm Eastern, NASA will announce findings on a discovery outside our solar system. No, it’s not aliens. It’s never aliens. Rather, NASA is eager to tell us about new exoplanets — planets that orbit stars other than our own — it has found.
The announcement will be streamed on NASA TV, which you can watch right here:
The past few years have seen an explosion in the discovery of planets outside our solar system. Astronomers have now confirmed 3,442 exoplanets in the galaxy, and they think there could be 100 billion or more in total.
But NASA and astronomers around the world aren’t just hunting for any ordinary planets. They’re particularly focused on the search for planets in the “habitable zone” of star systems, meaning, in theory, that water could exist on the surface in a liquid form. Finding Earth-size, potentially habitable planets is believed to be the first step to finding other life in the universe.
After identifying these planets, astronomers can observe them more closely and investigate whether their atmospheres contain oxygen, methane, or other telltale gases that signify life.
Last year, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory and the Pale Red Dot project found a potentially habitable planet orbiting the star closest to our own, Proxima B. (Though it may be located dangerously close to its star’s radiation to support life. And actually getting to Proxima B is a whole other story.)
Will today’s announcement be as exciting? It’s possible.
Further reading on exoplanets:
- Want to find life outside our solar system? Follow this 7-step guide.
- Last year astronomers found a new planet that could potentially support life — and it's really, really close.
- Watch planets orbit a star 129 light-years away.