According to reports, the state of potentially human-habitable environments in the universe just got a bit more interesting: NASA scientists have reportedly discovered a cluster of Earth-size planets that could potentially sustain water and life. Seven such planets have reportedly been discovered, floating some 40 lightyears away from Earth, and orbiting their own sun-like star.
According to NASA, this is a record-setting find, as never before have so many potentially habitable planets been discovered all at once. Three of the seven planets exist in a so-called "habitable zone," based on their distance from the star which they orbit ― just like in our solar system, being too close or too far from the source of all the light and heat makes sustaining life far less likely.
In a press release, Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA's Science Mission Directorate described the discovery in altogether exciting terms, characterizing it as a "remarkable step" towards discovering new habitable planets throughout the universe.
This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life. Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.
As shown in the video above, the planets possess rocky terrain, which is a good sign for the purposes of facilitating life as we know it. Solid ground and the potential for oceans is a huge part of the equation ― human beings, at the very least, can't survive on gaseous planets, nor those like Mercury, which scientists believe may once have been dominated by an ocean of red-hot magma.
Nikole Lewis, a scientist for the James Webb Telescope Project described the discovery in a NASA-produced video:
For me, it's mind-blowing. The first time I saw what the system had in it, I was just like, "You got to be kidding me!" Then I looked at the data myself. I'm like, "Yup, there they all are." It's just, I would have never predicted this. It's beyond, you know, anything I could've ever dreamt of.
As NPR notes, the planets in this faraway solar system actually orbit their star at a closer range than Earth does the sun, similar to the distance Mercury orbits at. The star itself reportedly burns cooler than the sun by about half, however, so the closer distance doesn't mean the planets are necessarily too hot to support life.
In short, if you're the kind of person who loves to lose yourself in visions of faraway planets and the majesty, uncertainty, and potential of space, this is exactly the sort of news that could feed some daydreams. And if you're the sort of person who's deeply engrossed in the sciences, all the more so! As far as the hunt for sustainable life in the universe, it doesn't get much cooler or more consequential than this.