GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Our solar system has eight planets, but there are over 4,000 confirmed planets in the universe and counting.
Remarkably, the first exoplanets were only discovered about 20 years ago. Since then, astronomers have found countless planets in the habitable zone, or distance from a star where liquid water is able to form, but most were at least 40% larger than our planet. In 2015, NASA’s Kepler space telescope discovered the first Earth-sized planet orbiting a star in the habitable zone. Named Kepler-186f and known as Earth’s cousin, it’s still unknown if the planet can actually sustain life.
Scientists found evidence of rain on another planet, but it won’t water any gardens. WASP 76b is larger than Jupiter and rains liquid iron. This exoplanet is tidally locked, meaning it keeps one face constantly to its sun.
This creates scorching temperatures on one side, hot enough to vaporize metals. The other side of the planet is slightly cooler, with strong winds flowing towards it. The winds carry vaporized iron from the hot side to the cold side, and as it does, the iron condenses into clouds and it literally rains liquid iron. Scientists believe this is probably one of the most extreme planetary climates ever seen.
Last, but not least, we have Kepler 16b, the first exoplanet ever discovered that orbits two suns, much like Tatooine from “Star Wars.” But, unlike the fictional planet, 16b is cold, gaseous, and not thought to hold any life. However, its discovery means the opportunity for life is not confined to just one sun … a theory that scientists had for decades but were unable to prove until Kepler 16b.
There are hundreds of exoplanets found every year, so who knows…humans may discover intelligent life on other planets sooner than you think.