Why is Gliese 667c so exciting? Life thats why

Earths Solar System Habitable Zone Planets

Earths Solar System Habitable Zone Planets Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

Recently KnowledgeOrb reported that Gliese 667c was found to have three planets in the magical habitable zone. This means these planets are in an orbit which in theory cold support temperatures that are Earth like.  They are in a  region around a star within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at the surface But even more impressive is the fact that there are three, all around the same sun. This increases the chance that one of these three is not only in the habitable zone, but directly in the Goldilocks zone, or an area where the temperatures are juuusssttt rlght. In our own solar systems we have two  planets in the habitable zone, Mars, (perhaps Venus depending on your definition) and of course Earth. Therefore Gliese 667c and our own solar system are very much are alike with multiple planets in the habitable zone, perhaps it too has one of those planets that are in just the right place, and that planet supports life.

It takes more than just being in the right orbit to support life. You also need a magnetic field to protect the atmosphere. Mars lost it’s protective field eons ago, as it did the solar wind slowly but surely stripped away it’s atmosphere. Today Mars is basically a vacuum, to date we have seen no conclusive proof of life there. Of course there will also need to be water on this new world but water is plentiful in the universe, again just look at the stream beds on Mars to see proof of this. There are many other chemicals needed to support life but again they abound in the universe. Being only 22 light years from Earth Gliese 667c is our cosmic neighbor. When satellites like the James Web Space Telescope launch we will be able to actually image some of these planets. Not with enough detail to see the land masses but we will be able to see colors, therefore analysis of the spectrum of light will tell us the composition of the atmospheres of these exoplanets. We will even be able to see changes on seasons.if the planet has them.

Artistic representations of the three potentially habitable planets around the star Gliese 667C as compared with Earth. The planets are shown assuming a rocky composition with surfaces mostly covered by water clouds. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

Artistic representations of the three potentially habitable planets around the star Gliese 667C as compared with Earth. The planets are shown assuming a rocky composition with surfaces mostly covered by water clouds. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

Can you imagine the excitement if we detect large quantities oxygen on one of these planets. Oxygen is not stable and it takes some force to have it in quantities like we have here on Earth. That force is of course life. What we could also detect on the planet is greening as the seasons change, and other indications of life such as ammonia levels changing. As we find more and more of these kinds of exoplanets our search for life outside Earth narrows and becomes focused. This new discovery is very exciting but there are more to come as we continue to look at data from the Kepler mission. As new spacecraft like JWST are launched the habitability list will grow as more and more planets are analyzed.

We only have four and a half years until JWST launches and we can point it’s powerful instruments at these new planets. As we do we are sure to learn more and perhaps find life. Outside of a signal heard by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) this is our best hope to find proof in our life times. Mankind has pondered life outside our own world for as long as we have looked at the stars. We are now only a handful of years away from perhaps an end to our quest. A mere blink of an eye in the time scale of mankind. We should consider ourselves lucky to be here in this time to witness this, expanding our understanding of ourselves and the universe around us.

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.