While we cannot move to the recently discovered super-Earth, what about one of the two dozen planets outside our solar system that researchers believe could just as conducive to life as Earth, if not more so?
The 24 potential “superhabitable planets,” which are the subject of a recent study published in the journal Astrobiology, certainly sound appealing right now. For the study, Washington State University scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch teamed up with astronomers Rene Heller and Edward Guinan to craft superhabitability criteria and determine which of the 4,500 discovered “exoplanets” outside our solar system qualify. In short, they looked for planets that are a little older, larger, wetter, and warmer than Earth, and that slowly orbit stars with longer lifespans than the Sun.
They identified 24, all of which are more than 100 light-years away — a unit that I cannot fully comprehend but know to be pretty significant. While none of the planets met all the researchers’ outlined criteria, one checked off four of the most significant characteristics, “making it possibly much more comfortable for life than our home planet,” according to a release from Washington State University.
“It’s sometimes difficult to convey this principle of superhabitable planets because we think we have the best planet,” Schulze-Makuch said. “We have a great number of complex and diverse lifeforms and many that can survive in extreme environments. It is good to have adaptable life, but that doesn’t mean that we have the best of everything.”
I don’t need much convincing that we’re not living on the best planet in all of space; I’d rather have a more productive conversation about how we can get to one of these new planets. Though even if humans were able to make it to one, there’d certainly be a strong for case for barring us from making the journey. See: What we’ve done to Earth. Perhaps our alien neighbors are more deserving habitants.