An international team of scientists, led by Laetitia Delrez, astrophysicist at the University of Liège, Belgium, has announced the discovery of two ‘super-Earth’ type planets that are just 100 light years away from us—one of which is potentially habitable with an average life expectancy of 3,158 years.
As per the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), super-Earths are a unique class of exoplanets that are more massive than our own planet yet lighter than ice giants like Neptune and Uranus. They can be made of gas, rock or a combination of both and are between twice the size of Earth and up to ten times its mass.
As for the two newly-found planets, they circle a “relatively low activity” red dwarf star called TOI-4306. The first planet, LP 890-9b (or TOI-4306b), was initially identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a space mission dedicated to the search for exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.
LP 890-9b is about 30 per cent larger than Earth with a radius of more than 5,200 miles and circles its sun in just 2.7 days. Now, to put things into perspective, the current average life expectancy on Earth is 73.5 years. This would mean that the average life expectancy on this newly-discovered planet—as noted by LADbible—would be 9,943, given the fact that it records much shorter years than Earth due to its orbiting period.
That being said, it was the discovery of the second planet that really intrigued the team of scientists.
While using their SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) telescopes in Chile and Spain to take a closer look at the first planet, the University of Liège researchers stumbled across LP 890-9c (renamed SPECULOOS-2c). About 40 per cent bigger than Earth with a radius of more than 5,400 miles, the second planet has a longer orbital period of around 8.5 days. This statistic essentially places it in the so-called ‘habitable zone’ around its star.
“Although this planet orbits very close to its star, at a distance about ten times shorter than that of Mercury around our Sun, the amount of stellar irradiation it receives is still low, and could allow the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface, provided it has a sufficient atmosphere,” explained co-author Francisco J. Pozuelos in a press release.
“This is because the star LP 890-9 is about 6.5 times smaller than the Sun and has a surface temperature half that of our star. This explains why LP 890-9c, despite being much closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, could still have conditions that are suitable for life.”
Now, if you happen to live on this second planet, you could possibly celebrate up to 3,158 birthdays. It’s safe to say that life already sounds like a series of parties on LP 890-9c.
But this ‘immortal’ conversation can’t be discussed without mentioning space billionaire Jeff Bezos’ 2021 headline-grabbing announcement of his anti-ageing venture called Altos Labs that essentially aims to ‘cheat death’ on our home planet itself. Crypto billionaire Brian Armstrong and bioengineer and tech investor Blake Byers have also previously admitted their plans to expand the human lifespan on Earth.
Back to exoplanets, however, CBS News mentioned that the team of researchers is now planning to study the atmosphere of LP 890-9c to determine just how habitable it could prove to be. Based on their findings, it’s also believed that it could be the second most favourable terrestrial planet to sustain human life.
“The discovery of LP 890-9c therefore offers a unique opportunity to better understand and constrain the habitability conditions around the smallest and coolest stars in our solar neighbourhood,” lead researcher Delrez concluded.
While Elon Musk is working on improvements to Tesla’s autopilot features and teaching a monkey how to play Pong with its mind, Jeff Bezos—his now well-known nemesis—is allegedly partaking in yet another futuristic venture, one that could soon allow humans to live longer. Introducing Altos Labs, a biological reprogramming tech company currently looking into a variety of methods that could help reverse the ageing process.
As of now, the company has raised more than $270 million in funding thanks to massive donations from people all over the world who are banking on the company’s promise, Bezos included. Bezos is said to have a fairly long-standing interest in longevity research, and he previously invested in an anti-ageing company called Unity Biotechnology. Another investor, along with the richest man in the world, is Russian-Israeli entrepreneur Yuri Milner, as reported by the MIT Technology Review.
One method being studied by Altos Labs is whether this reprogramming could teach cells to revert back to their ‘stem cell’ origins, make them readapt to the skin and give it a more youthful appearance. In order to do so, Altos Labs has recruited Nobel Prize winner Doctor Shinya Yamanaka, who will serve as an unpaid senior scientist, chairing the company’s scientific advisory board.
“The Japanese researcher discovered that four specific proteins, now known as ‘Yamanaka factors’, could be added to a cell that would help reprogram it into its stem cell state,” reports Lad Bible. Also joining Altos Labs’ team is Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a Spanish biologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, who won notoriety for research into mixing human and monkey embryos and who has also predicted that human lifespans could be increased by 50 years.
Just so you get an idea of who we’re dealing with here, by 2016, Izpisúa Belmonte’s lab had applied Yamanaka factors to living mice, achieving signs of age reversal and leading him to term reprogramming a potential “elixir of life.”
Last but not least, the biological reprogramming tech company has also hired Steve Horvath, a UCLA professor and developer of a “biological clock” that can accurately measure human ageing, Peter Walter. Walter’s laboratory at the University of California is behind a molecule that shows remarkable effects on memory, alongside Doctor Jennifer Doudna, who won a Nobel Prize in 2020 for her co-discovery of CRISPR gene editing, as well as Manuel Serrano from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB).
Altos Labs is luring more university professors by offering salaries of $1 million a year or more, plus equity, as well as freedom from the hassle of applying for grants. Serrano, who plans to move to Cambridge in the UK to join an Altos facility there, said the company would pay him five to ten times what he earns now. “The philosophy of Altos Labs is to do curiosity-driven research. This is what I know how to do and love to do,” Serrano told the MIT Technology Review. “In this case, through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore. In this way, it will rejuvenate me.”
Long story short, although Altos Labs has so far managed to recruit some impressive names in the biological reprogramming sector, as well as some pretty big investors, its research still needs a lot of work before it can ever be applied to humans. But who wants to be a party pooper when there’s a possibility that in a couple of years, we’ll all still look and feel like 20 year-olds? Dystopian movie plots aside, I’m excited.