I heard about the annual Perseid meteor showers on the local news. This year they were supposed to be pretty spectacular since the moon sets earlier, making the skies darker, and thus, even fainter meteors could supposedly be seen. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know. I tried to look for some, but couldn’t get away from the city I live in, plus there are many intense wildfires burning up the wilderness fairly close by. Hence, the sky was both bright with light pollution and heavily clouded with thick smoke. (Insert whatever word for disappoint you prefer here.) That’s what I thought.
Like a middle grade boy, I also think that space-type stuff is pretty cool. Who doesn’t like to look up into a starry night sky every so often? And this year is as exciting as ever for space news.
Did you know that NASA scientists discovered a new planet during the prime viewing days of the Perseid meteor showers this year? And it’s pink! That’s right. Pink! Or, I guess actually, more magenta, according to NASA.
The color pink means that this planet, called GJ 504b, is relatively young in age. It is about 57 light years away from Earth and about the size of Jupiter. The size is confounding astronomers because it defies current planetary formation theories.
And GJ 504b isn’t the only new planet discovered this year. In July, astronomers found a blue planet with the Hubble Space Telescope. This one is called HD189733b, is azure blue, and is a little farther out at 63 light years from Earth. Being able to tell the color is extremely important to scientists because it hints at what the atmosphere is made up of. In the case of HD189733b, scientists say glassy silicate particles in its atmosphere are reflecting back blue light, similar to how Earth’s oceans reflect blue light into space making our own planet appear blue out in space.
As you may have guessed, neither of these planets would be able to support human life. So, what about that? I mean, it is very cool to discover all these giant Jupiter-like planets in other solar systems orbiting other stars, but what about smaller Earth-like planets?
Right now, astronomers have no way to observe a smaller planet the size of our Earth. But maybe we shouldn’t only be looking at planets. What about moons?
That’s right. Moons.
Even in our own solar system, there are something like 176 moons orbiting six planets. Something interesting happens on some moons. It’s called tidal heating, and it is a gravitational squeezing that happens when the moon is pulled on by other sister moons as it orbits the planet. This happens in our own solar system to Io, a moon of Jupiter, where it triggers volcanoes to erupt. The moon Europa, also one of Jupiter’s moons, has an ice crust of water, which may have a global ocean underneath.
But I digress. The point is that we are looking for mirror Earths, or other planetary objects in the universe that could support human life. We cannot exclude moons from our consideration. . . . And if we’re discovering Jupiter-like planets, maybe these planets might also have Jupiter-like moons.
Although, who knows? Maybe there are other mirror Earths out there in the Goldilocks Zone (a not-too-close but not-too-far either distance from a sun where an orbiting planet could support life as we know it).
Back to NASA. They have a Kepler mission, looking for habitable planets, that has discovered that 6 out of every 100 red dwarf stars could have an Earth-sized planet in the Goldilocks Zone. Red Dwarf stars have a much longer life span than our own sun, so if any life exists on any of these mirror earth planets orbiting a red dwarf, the life there would be much older than life on our own planet . . .
Pretty fascinating stuff. Just think of all the possibilities!
And thank you for letting me step into the mind of a middle grade boy for the day. Hopefully I didn’t get too technical or nerdy for you!