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Maybe the Galaxy Really Doesn’t Revolve Around Us

By: Shannon Keane, Copy Editor (skeane3@uic.edu)

“My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.”

If you were like me in third grade, you’ll remember this casual saying, of course to help remind us of the planets in our solar system and the order they go in. However, now that Pluto’s gone, I guess it would serve to just say “served us nachos.” RIP Pluto.

So, if you were like me in third grade, once you learned about our solar system, you were probably really curious about other ones too. Not because of moons or scientific reasons. No, you wanted to know if it was possible for aliens to exist. You wanted to know if, one day in the future, you’d be walking off of a spaceship whispering the words, “I come in peace” to some bright green humanoid with six eyes.

What if I told you it’s possible?

As of recent data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, apparently over 715 planets have been discovered past our solar system, roughly all of them smaller than our Neptune (which is about four times the size of Earth). Kepler, a $600 million mission whose main goal is to find planets our size within our galaxy, has certainly done its job.

But maybe the most astounding thing about this discovery is not the amount of planets, but the stars that they orbit. Kepler has discovered that the over seven hundred planets orbit only about 305 stars, much like our sun. This data, besides being the “largest windfall of planets announced at one time,” indicate that solar systems like ours not only exist beyond our system, but are common.

The most striking factor about the Kepler data isn’t the sheer amount of planets, however; it’s the fact that as many as one in every five stars like our sun have a roughly Earth-sized planet within its “habitable zone.” For those of you who don’t know what a habitable zone is, it’s the small little window around the sun where water can keep a liquid state. Since every living thing that we know of requires water, this research indicates an even greater possibility that maybe, just maybe, there’s other life out there.

What this means, in simpler terms, is that the closest “Earth-like” planet in our galaxy is a “mere” twelve light years away. While, yes, this does still seem ridiculously far, it does mean that a planet like this could be seen, with the naked eye, on a clear night in the sky.

I don’t know about you guys, but to me that seems pretty amazing.

While some of these planets have been investigated and have been discovered to be either too hot or too cold to hold any type of water, the possibilities from this discovery are endless. Who knows? Maybe you won’t get to whisper pleasantries to aliens. But maybe your grandkids will.

Like astronomy? Check out this website! www.apod.com

For further reading: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24824007, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26362433

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