With the recent discovery of the 7 probably habitable exoplanets by the NASA we considered that it was a good idea to give some more insight into the relevance of the discoveries for science.
Let us start by remarking that exoplanets are known as planets orbiting arround a star different from the sun. Following this classification there have been 3453 confirmed planets as well as 522 multi-planet systems. Whitin these finding only 49 planets can be taken into account if we were to search for a habitable planet. Moreover, from those 49 only 12 can be considered if we take into account the possibility of rocky composition and existing liquid water at surface level.
To put things into perspective, less than 0.35% of planets found have the potential to be habitable and that is taking into account that the first exoplanet was discovered more than 25 years ago. Therefore, finding 7 planets has become once of the most notable scientific discoveries in recent years.
Taking into account the recent discovery we consider relevant to show the published paper with the discovery here for those most interested. We will be delving more into the habitability and the conditions that these planets provide in the near future. However on this post want to give the spotlight to the main character in this recent finding;
The Spitzer Space Telescope
The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) previously known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SITF) was launched in 2003 and continues operating up to this date. A surprising fact taking into account that it was meant to last for a maximum of 5 years since there was a limited supply of liquid helium as the coolant of the systems. Nevertheless, when the coolant was exhausted scientist realized that the two frequencies from the infrared array camera could still work extended the mission for more than 7 years.
Regretfully, the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS) stopped their functions. Most specifically the MIPS provided an insight into the view of the universe showing many of its wonders such as forming stars nebulas, galaxies etc.
Some of the most remarkable work by the Spitzer includes:
- GLIMPSE, the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire, is a survey spanning 300° of the inner Milky Way galaxy.
- MIPSGAL is a similar survey covering 278° of the galactic disk at longer wavelengths.
- “Planet Hunter”: SST was the first telescope to directly capture light from exoplanets. It was never intended but after finding out this possibility it became one of the main missions of the telescope.
- Spitzer “Beyond”: the last mission taken by the SST in order to prepare for the future James Webb Space Telescope
Thanks to the Spitzer and other telescopes we are ever so close to unveiling the secrets of exoplanets, maybe even answering wether there is intelligent life outside the earth. Our focus must remain steady if we hope to bring all these endless posibilities into being. For now though, we will keep on trying to give more insight in order to enlighten and welcome as many people as posible into the marvels that science provide us with.