The Goldilocks Zone: like its namesake, this term defines a place which is neither too hot nor too cold. In this case, it is an orbital distance from a star which is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. And science is looking for planets in the Goldilocks Zone because they represent the best chance we have of discovering life on other planets as we understand it.
NASA has announced today that they have discovered the first genuine candidate for Goldilocks honors, in addition to doubling the list of planets we’ve discovered in the universe. They also say there are ten more candidates for the Goldilocks crown.
Are planets in the Goldilocks zone the only ones with potential for life to exist? Perhaps not. Science’s definition of life and its habitats changes all the time. But science works best under controlled circumstances, and with over 1000 planets having been discovered, simply picking one out of a crowd to start searching is no way to go about things. Discovering other planets that share as much as possible in common with our own – the only planet we can say definitively has life on it – increases our odds of success.
In this case, the planet is named – after the sexy fashion of @NASA – Kepler 22-b. This planet is 600 light-years away, is 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbits in a 290-day route. Its sun is in the same G-class of stars as our own, though it is slightly smaller and cooler. But the major common trait is that its in the right orbit to sustain liquid water.
Will there be life on this Kepler 22-b? How would we even go about proving that, one way or another, at such a distance? Only time will tell if our first Goldilocks lives up to its potential, or even exceeds expectations.
For more information on the discovery and announcement, have a look at the press release from NASA below: