NASA’s recent ground-breaking discovery of 7 planets orbiting a single star much like our own solar system, may be the first step in proving that we may not be alone in the universe after all.
On February 22, 2017, a press release reported NASA’s astonishing discovery and stated that every planet discovered was earth-like and each had the potential for water on its surface. Three of the seven planets could be habitable for humans, as they are surrounded by the necessary conditions required for them to sustain life.
Why is this discovery so important for us?
Given the sheer size of our universe, it is incredibly unlikely for it to have humans as the only form of life. According to the Drake equation, which is used by astrophysicists to calculate the number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy, has been estimated to be about 100 billion planets—and this is just in our galaxy! Given the fact that there is estimated to be 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, which is merely the portion of the universe that we are able to observe, it seems extremely unlikely for there not to be other forms of life. Whether we will actually be able to communicate with other forms of life in our timespan as humans is completely another story, but nevertheless, finding habitable planets in the first place is a huge step.
When astronomers usually find planets of this type of nature, they are usually millions of light-years away! To put this into perspective, it would take a current space shuttle about 37,000 years to travel one light-year. Realistically speaking, it is impossible for humans to ever come in contact with extraterrestrials in our lifetime; sad but true.
The 7 planets that NASA recently discovered are only 39 light-years away. Although we cannot travel there, it’s important to note that they are in our own galaxy, and they are essentially a solar system much like our own! Even if these planets do not have extraterrestrial life on them, scientists can still gain extremely important information that teaches us about how terrestrial planets like these are formed in the first place or information about their behavior.
Why funding for space is incredibly important
Okay, so we discovered an entire solar system that has the potential to support life. But who cares! It’s not like we’ve proven life on it yet, and shouldn’t we be spending this kind of money on issues on our own planet, where poverty and lack of clean water exist? This is a question that a number of individuals have in regards to space exploration, and in my opinion, the answer is that by gaining new forms of knowledge about our Universe, we are in fact improving our lives here on Earth.
Space exploration has helped us to discover new materials, life-saving medicine, as well as creating solutions for problems ranging from food scarcity to methods to provide clean water, which is contrary to what most may believe.
The engineering skills at NASA are not only beneficial to space, but also on our own planet. Space engineers are constantly striving to make the life for astronauts more efficient on missions, and some of these invented technologies are actually helping civilians on Earth too. In 2011, NASA invented a solar powered refrigerator which was created to help support life on the moon; with about 2 billion of the Earth’s population living without electricity, technology like this can have a huge application for them in increasing their quality of life.
Moreover, the refrigerator can be used in the medical field to store vaccines and medication in remote places where cost-cutting measures are essential. For doctors who travel to the most impoverished regions in the world such as Africa, this kind of technology can allow them to efficiently and safely deliver life-saving medication to the ones who need it the most.
Inventions like these are just one example of the hundreds of various technologies that can be created to not only be beneficial in space but also simultaneously help resolve issues in our own planet. It is now clear that there are many misconceptions about space funding, but unfortunately, many people fail to recognize these misconceptions, such as America’s very own President-elect, Donald Trump, who wants to severely slash funding for NASA and space exploration as a whole.
“Space exploration is important research to our economic and national defense, and America’s space program is a symbol of our success as a scientifically and technologically advanced nation.” – Randy Forbes
While it is true that there are numerous issues in the current state of Earth today, this should not be a solid reason for cutting funding for space exploration. Agencies such as NASA attract and retain talent for incredibly intelligent individuals, who have the potential to create worthy inventions that are useful for both space and our own planet itself.