By: Erin Ruberry
It's Unexplained Week on the Science Channel and all week we're asking big questions like 'Is there alien life out there?' and 'What happens when we find it?'
Friday night's Alien Encounters attempts to answer these queries starting at 7 p.m. with an episode asking, "What would really happen if we got a message from space? How would we react?" Experts from the SETI Institute weigh in with their analysis of the facts and their interpretations of possible signs of extraterrestrial life.
On March 6, 2009, NASA launched its Kepler spacecraft with a mission of searching for habitable, Earth-like planets. By February 2011, NASA announced Kepler had identified 1,235 planetary candidates, including 54 planets in the habitable zone where liquid water, one of the main ingredients to sustain life life, could be present on a planet's surface.
Those numbers were soon blown out of the water when a 2013 statistical analysis of Kepler's observations by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and University of Hawaii, Manoa revealed that there are potentially "several tens of billions" of potentially habitable, Earth-size planets in the Milky Way: "one in five stars like the sun have planets about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to life."
“When you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing,” said UC Berkeley gradu ydvhate student Erik Petigura.
The exact number of these planets is up for debate: the New York Times reported "there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy," while Bloomberg had a more conservative estimate of 4.4 billion.
As the search for more so-called "Goldilocks planets" -- named because a planet would need to be neither too hot nor too cold, but just right -- continues, Kepler's days may be numbered. Two of its four reaction wheels have failed and NASA announced in August 2013 that it was ending attempts to fully restore the spacecraft. But, NASA made clear, "[t]hough the spacecraft will no longer operate with its unparalleled precision pointing, scientists expect Kepler’s most interesting discoveries are still to come."
Tune in to the Science Channel tonight for this and many more extraterrestrial mysteries and let us know what you think. Is there life out there?