NASA recently announced a major discovery, achieved through the use of its Kepler space telescope: scientists have identified as many as 1,200 likely new planets, several of which could harbor life.
NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien says this is a very significant discovery because the telescope was only looking at a very small portion of sky when it found the new planets, including 54 that could have the right conditions to harbor life of some kind. That means it's likely that there are probably hundreds of thousands of planets we don't know about, many of which could have conditions similar to Earth's.
O'Brien says the next step for determining whether there is life on other planets is to build even better telescopes that could actually see the details of those planets, rather than just determine their existence and their position within their solar systems.
This recent Kepler discovery is likely to go down in history as a landmark moment in the study of space, since, as O'Brien puts it, it makes it "highly unlikely" that human beings are alone in the universe.
"It was only about 20 years ago the total number of known exoplanets was zero. And now we're approaching 1,800 planets outside our solar systems of various sizes and shapes and consistencies, some of them big gassy giants, some of them smaller and rocky, that are out there orbiting other stars, or their suns." - NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien
"There are many astronomers who would say, if you just start doing the math on all this, there are probably many millions of planets out there. And many of them would be habitable. Many of them could be Earth-like. The question is how will we find out?" - NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien
1. What is the definition of life?
2. Do you think there are other planets in the universe that can support life? Why or why not?
3. What sorts of technologies allow humans to see into space and study it?
1. Based on the discussion you saw in the video, do you think it's likely that humans will ever find life on other planets that we can communicate with? Why or why not?
2. Why do you think this discovery will be included in textbooks? Do you think it should be?
3. Do you think space travel and research are important things to spend money and resources on? Why or why not?