Periodic Table of Planets Categorizes Thousands of Alien Worlds

first_img NASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This WeekendHubble Captures Saturn’s ‘Phonograph Record’ Ring System Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. We’ve been discovering planets at a pretty ridiculous rate since we brought the latest generation of telescopes online. These lenses allow astronomers to gaze at distant stars and track the tiny dips in their light whenever a planet passes in front. That’s led to the discovery of literally thousands of alien worlds — and a desperate need to sort, classify, and categorize them based on their properties.That’s what Abel Méndez‏ of the University of Puerto Rico has been looking to do. Working with the Planetary Habitability Laboratory, Méndez‏ created a chart that sorts each planet into one of 18 major categories. These include things like hot Jupiters — massive gas giants that circle frightening close their parent star, effectively cooking the turbulent monsters all the way through.Méndez‏ used traits like distance from the star, composition, and type of parent star organize them, with a particular eye for those planets that could harbor life.“We know of over 3,700 planets around other stars. They are very diverse,” Méndez‏ said, speaking to Gizmodo. “We can roughly classify them by their size and temperature. Only warm planets with the right size, similar to Earth, might provide some of the conditions for extraterrestrial life.”According to Méndez’s chart, there are 53 planets that could potentially harbor life as we know it. The list consists of all the warm, terrestrial planets. These could potentially have a liquid surface and have higher chances for an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, but it’ll be some time before we can confirm their composition.“I’m overwhelmed by the number and diversity of planets in the stars around us. So many places to explore in our own Solar System, but much more is waiting for us beyond,” Méndez told Gizmodo. “I won’t be very surprised by another planet with life, Earth is the example that this is possible. I will be more surprised by something we haven’t seen before.”For now, most of the planets we’ve found are small scorchers. Most are a bit bigger than earth, but far, far smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, and a smidge teenier than Neptune. All of that’s expected to change, though, once the next generation of telescopes, like James Webb, comes online in a few years.Planets that are truly Earth-sized are fairly rare, but that’s likely the result of the limitations of our measurements. Almost every star we’ve seen has planets around it, but many show signs of there being many, many more than what we can see right now. On the one hand, that’s really exciting. It means that life may, in fact, be common in the universe. Or that there are plenty of planets suitable for us should we ever gain the ability to venture out into the black.On the other, though, it’s disconcerting. If so many life-sustaining planets are out there — and if we expect to find even more — why haven’t we heard from anyone yet? Carl Sagan and others have worried for decades that the reason we haven’t heard from anyone is that they may well be dead. Either way, we’ll know more very soon, and it’s an exciting — if existentially unsettling — time to be an astronomer.center_img Stay on targetlast_img

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