LISA KALTENEGGER: My name's Lisa Kaltenegger. I am the director of the Carl Sagan Institute here at Cornell developing the forensic toolkit to find life in the universe, inside our solar system and outside. We live in this amazing time, where we found a thousand of other planets, planets that don't orbit our own sun, but other suns, other stars that you can see in the night sky.
And the next one over after our sun is actually a small red star called Proxima Centauri. And even the next star and only four light years away has a planet that could potentially be like an Earth at the right distance. So it's not too hot and not too cold for there to be liquid surface water. So the big question that arose when looking at this young red sun is whether the harsh UV radiation that it flings out at its planet would actually be detrimental to life starting to evolve there.
And what we figured out is when we calculated how much of this harsh UV radiation would make it to the ground on that planet is that it would be worse than currently on Earth. So for you and me, it wouldn't be the best place to be. But it's less than it was on a young Earth. And on a young Earth, we had life. So the chances to finding life close to us, around the closest stars that happen to be red young suns, is much greater now. And so our quest to figure out whether we're alone in the universe just got a tiny bit easier.
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Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell University's Carl Sagan Institute, describes research offering new hope for finding life on some of the closest exoplanets.