NASA scientists have been making a lot of exciting discoveries lately, including numerous Earth-like planets that might just be far enough from their stars to be habitable for otherworldly lifeforms.
But the latest planet to be reported on might just be the best chance yet at proving that there is in fact other forms of life out there. And why is that? you might ask. Well, because the majority of it is made up of water.
The planet, currently being called GJ 1214b, is 2.7 times larger than Earth (and weighs 7 times more) but smaller than Uranus, and sits only 40 light years from our own planet—placing it within the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), and remarkably close to us, which means it will be a primary candidate for further study with new observational technologies.
It’s said to be a “steamy” planet, that holds much more water than our own planet and much less rock. But before you go thinking GJ 1214b is one big relaxing sauna of a planet, it’s actually only 1.2 million miles from the red dwarf star it orbits, making the surface temperature around 446 degrees Fahrenheit.
Astronomers first discovered the planet in 2009, and estimations that it was mostly water came around 2010, but needed to be further studied before confirmation. Scientists also believe that due to the extremely high temperature and pressure, incredibly unique substances could exist here such as hot ice or superfluid water.
Still, even though 446 degrees is way hotter than life as we know it could survive in, let us not forget exploration documentaries like Volcanoes of the Deep Seas (produced by James Cameron) and Aliens of the Deep (co-directed by James Cameron).
In these movies, we see an incredible variety of lifeforms that, unlike everything else on our planet, are thriving in the depths of our oceans far from the nurturing energy of our sun. These lifeforms feed on chemosynthetic bacteria from the hydrothermal vents (high-pressure emissions of geothermally heated water from fissures in the Earth’s surface, usually near volcanically active areas, that can reach as high as 867.2 degrees Fahrenheit) they live near that’s so toxic it would kill most other living organisms. This is where many also believe that life on Earth began.
Basically, these lifeforms—which includes crabs and snails and fish among the stranger organisms—are about as close to aliens as we know. And that makes them the best comparison we have to what living organisms on other planets with extreme temperatures like this might be like.
So, could there be similar creatures thriving somewhere in the depths of the heated waters of planet GJ 1214b? Perhaps there’s gigantic sea monsters swimming those very waters who survive for the same reasons these creatures are able to, only at on much larger scale.
But most importantly, will we live to know the answer?