Over the past twenty years, scientists have discovered nearly 700 such planets. Most of these are too big and too hot for life. Their powerful gravity and their vaporizing heat make it unlikely that any form of life could arise, much less evolve.
A few exoplanets may have the right conditions for life. So far, at least two exoplanets seem to have roughly “earth-like” conditions, making them what researchers call “habitable exoplanets.”
More will surely be discovered. So many more, in fact, that some sort of catalog is needed. Enter the “Habitable Exoplanets Catalog,” hosted at the University of Puerto Rico. The Catalog is being introduced on December 5, 2011 to astronomers at the Kepler Science Conference in California.
The Catalog is an online database of habitable worlds. There’s no proof yet that life exists on any of them, but many researchers believe that some forms of life will be discovered once our detection technology advances just a bit further, with probes such as NASA’s Kepler.
”New observations with ground and orbital observatories will discover thousands of exoplanets in the coming years. We expect that the analyses contained in our catalog will help to identify, organize, and compare the life potential of these discoveries,” said Abel Méndez, Director of the PHL and principal investigator of the project in a press release issued by the University of Puerto Rico.
One nice feature of the Catalog is its “periodic table of exoplanets.” Everyone remembers the periodic table of elements that hangs in every science classroom. Just as that table organizes elements by their properties, so the table of exoplanets organizes them by habitability. What’s more, because it is an online database, new discoveries are included and organized as they occur.