If we were to think about the planets that would be nominated as inhabited, we would definitely have to think about the planets orbiting the star K2-384, about 270 light-years from Earth. The planets are rocky and the star is not very hot. Moreover, one of these worlds is just the right size to be our “twin”.
Another candidate is WASP-17b, which is about 1,000 light-years from Earth. Then of course there is the much-referenced TRAPPIST-1, another star that supports a planetary system with conditions potentially suitable for life, about 40 light-years from Earth.
All of these worlds can now be observed with NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, which belongs to the new generation of space exploration instruments, the most powerful ever. And while Webb will still see distant planets as nothing more than bright spots in the optical spectrum, his tools will help exobiologists imagine what a planet might look like.
Webb uses a 6.5-meter primary mirror and infrared spectroscopic instruments, capable of distinguishing atmospheric conditions, such as the presence of oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide, that may be suitable for life.
Living on a planet full of life around every corner, we can only imagine how many other planets could provide perfect homes. Although 5,000 exoplanets is a lot to begin with, there are still 100 to 200 billion planets in our galaxy just waiting to be discovered.
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