It is 2018, and the Kepler space telescope has officially retired. Analysts are now sifting through its massive haul of data in the hope of confirming the existence of remote planets. As two NASA interns examine a batch of measurements initially discarded by the space agency, they discover what appears to be a “super-Earth.” And it just might be capable of supporting carbon-based life.
Technically, a super-Earth is simply a medium-sized planet with a greater mass than the Earth, regardless of its composition. In fact, a super-Earth might be composed of rocks, metals, ice or gas, but only those planets capable of maintaining liquid water are considered to lie within a star’s circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ) or “goldilocks zone” – the orbital range considered habitable for carbon-based life.
In fact, it is not known for certain what kind of life might be supported by the planet identified by two interns in 2018. Depending on variables such as surface temperature, gravity and terrestrial and atmospheric composition, the environment may or may not resemble anything on Earth. Likewise, indigenous life, where it exists, could have evolved into highly unfamiliar forms.