IN THE QUEST FOR A LIVING PLANET:

Ever thought about finding a living planet? Ever wondered gazing at the dark night sky that one day we will be able to reside on one of those planets?

HOW TO FIND A HABITABLE PLANET?

Planet colonization has been a topic of interest for over a decade now as billionaire entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are striving toward achieving that goal of colonization on planets like Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan. But the question is, are they habitable in the first place or what a planet generally requires to be habitable by humans. Let’s discuss it through in this article.  

How to find a living planet? 

Before answering this particular question, we need to know, what makes our Earth hospitable to life? Scientists opine, there’re few essential ingredients behind the origin of life on earth. Those are liquid water, some organic molecules and most essentially Hydrogen cyanide (a toxic compound that helps to produce Biomolecules, the 1st sign of life on earth). Water as, we all know is equivalent to live itself, also as the solvent of life. To know about the importance of water for life, Please See this video on khan academy    https://youtu.be/fxlMABxU7zU             

Beside these chemicals, what we need is a planet! Yeah a planet, but not any planet which is similar to earth.  We need a terrestrial planet which has solid surface like earth unlike those gas planets like Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn & Uranus in our solar system. Furthermore, it should be situated just at the right distance from its star, where its temperature is just similar to earth’s surface which ensures the availability of liquid water. Its gravity is similar to earth which helps the formation of atmosphere, clouds, rains and should have a strong and stable magnetic field which helps stave off the cosmic rays and flares that would otherwise fry the planet every moment.  

So, that’s pretty much all we need to get a planet which can be potentially habitable.  According to recent estimation, our galaxy has about 10^12 solar systems, where the number of earth like planets is around whopping six billion.  

Now, we need to shoot up our telescopes towards the temperate planets to see if water & HCN is present in their atmospheres.

It might be a surprise for you, that Water isn’t really a special chemical that Earth only has. But, it is one of the most abundant molecules in the whole universe. Most of the planets, the interstellar planet formed by clouds which surrounds the stars & planet have water molecule in it. But, Hydrogen cyanide is a pretty rare & molecule present in these planet-forming clouds. HCN is delicate and fragile. Hence, it is rarely seen in these planets.

Detection & Mapping of HCN

About a decade ago, space chemist Karin Öberg has started looking for these molecules in various planet-forming discs in our galaxy. Initially, there were limitations in technology, and less powerful telescopes aren’t competent for accurate imaging & mapping of these molecules. To learn more about these technical stuff visit to https://youtu.be/wGGmzeCT8gU, Where Ms. Karin Öberg depicts the technical challenges she had faced while mapping of these molecules.

Recent developments in the search of Living planet

In the year 2013, a giant interferometer has been set up in northern Chile, called ALMA (Atacama millimeter/ submillimetre array) for studying the building blocks of stars, planetary systems, galaxies. ALMA consists of 66 highly powerful antennas to take pictures of the Universe using a technique called interferometry and helps the detection and mapping of Hydrogen cyanide in the planet-forming clouds, discs. To know more about ALMA click on following the link: https://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/alma/

 Now, As I feel that we are very close to finding out our first alien living planet, it is only a matter of time to filter out the unsuitable planets. For that what we need, is more sophisticated technology. But, we really need to be very fortunate to explore these planets, make them our second home. 

Author: Vijayant Khuntia.

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