Goldilocks, A Dwarf and NASA's Short Term Future

Space sucks. Literally. The void of space is one perpetual vacuum that would suck the brain out of any exposed human through their ears. In space there is also unfiltered radiation, extreme temperatures and a multitude of other ways that humans can be harmed outside of low-Earth orbit. Learning how to mitigate radiation and improve space crews' health are two of 16 recommendations made by the National Research Council to NASA for the agency's technological focus in the next five years.

Researchers announced yesterday that they have discovered a new potential "Goldilocks" planet in a different solar system. A "Goldilocks" planet is one found within the habitable zone in orbit around a star - not too hot, not to cold - that could potentially support life. In hundreds of years, after humanity has exhausted all of Earth's natural resources, we may need to migrate to one of these planets. So, NASA should hurry up and get cracking on the NRC's recommendations. Best to be prepared in the face of an uncertain future.

Near-Term Space Travel

The NRC's recommendations come in three objectives. See the chart below.

The study was sponsored by NASA. It states, " NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) should establish a rigorous process to select among competing technologies at appropriate milestones in order to ensure that the most promising ones receive sufficient attention and resources."

The study focuses on the near term goals for NASA's space flight program and recommends that the foundation for the goals be implemented in the next five years. NASA works on 20-30 year windows of technological innovation. Within that window, it is hoped, that humans will return to the Moon and maybe make a venture towards Earth's irascible sister planet, Mars. Near and long terms goals in our solar system are to identify alien sources of water and determine if life ever existed outside of our little blue orb.

Goldilocks and A Dwarf

The most recent Goldilocks planet, dubbed GJ 667Cc, is found in the constellation Scorpio, 22 light years away from Earth. It orbits a dwarf star in a system with two other dwarf stars. It has a 28-day solar cycle, meaning its "years" are very quick. The planet is much closer to its star than Earth but researchers believe it receives as much energy from its star because of the weakness of the dwarf.

This is the fourth Goldilocks planet found as scientists become more proficient at finding smaller objects orbiting distant stars. Researchers did not expect to find a planet around the star because the system does not have a lot of metal-based material such as iron in comparison with our own solar system. Yet, the discovery shows that Earth-like planets can exist in a variety of conditions in the universe, greatly increasing the likelihood that another planet much like our own exists somewhere.

"This was expected to be a rather unlikely star to host planets. Yet there they are, around a very nearby, metal-poor example of the most common type of star in our galaxy," said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California Santa Cruz, in a release. "The detection of this planet, this nearby and this soon, implies that our galaxy must be teeming with billions of potentially habitable rocky planets."

Now that humanity is getting better at identifying extra-solar planets, NASA and the international space community needs to take the steps we will need to eventually reach out to them. The first steps to inter-galactic dominance start with the decisions makers in Washington, D.C.

Top image: UC Santa Cruz