Published: May 27, 2016

Are we the only life in the universe? This question has passed through the minds of every astronomer and almost every other person on Earth. It is the question that drives us to search deeper and deeper into the space around us. Astronomers are constantly finding new planets that could host alien life. These planets are called exoplanets; they are any planet found to orbit a star other than our own. Over 3000 exoplanets have been found so far, but few meet the conditions that are required for life. Keeping in mind that liquid water is the key to life, scientists have calculated the “Goldilocks Zone”. This band around an alien sun is at the perfect distance that water can exist. Any farther a distance from the star and the water would freeze; any closer and the water would boil. A major problem, though, is that whenever a planet is detected, its star’s rays block out any hope of acquiring data on the planet. Not to stop us, though, mankind has made solutions.

One way to bypass the star’s obstacle is to launch a “helper” satellite into space. Positioned at a critical distance from an orbiting telescope, this satellite can be used in conjunction with the telescope to see the planets more clearly. The idea is that by having the satellite between the telescope and the star, it will act as a cover (by blocking out the star) that will reduce the amount of rays interfering with observations. This way, without the star’s light being an issue, the telescope can focus on collecting important data.

It hasn’t been until recently that another solution was found. One way to reduce the star’s luminosity is to observe one such as the red dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius. The old, dwarf star of TRAPPIST-1 is only about the size of Jupiter which allows for excellent planetary observations. Three planets have been found in its “Goldilocks Zone” and scientists will be able to gather more than just the planets’ size and orbital period, but its atmospheric composition as well. Though these planets have a much higher radiation percentage than Earth, it can help us understand the mysterious worlds around us.

Hopefully the “water carrier” Aquarius will not let us down as we wonder if these three planets possess the essential ingredient of water. Scientific advancement will continue, nevertheless, and next week, we will look into the heavenly bodies in our own solar system for life.