What can turn a seemingly perfect ocean-rich planet into an uninhabitable desert wasteland? Two future space explorers (played by Cas Anvar and Cara Gee of “The Expanse”) aim to find out in "Scorched Earth Enigma," a science-grounded sci-fi video from NASA’s Universe of Learning project. While the story is a work of fiction, the ideas are pulled directly from current exoplanet science and vetted by astronomers and education specialists.
This video appropriately comes at a time when NASA looks back at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and forward to our return to the Moon, an important step in sending humans to Mars. Inspired by this commitment to science and exploration, “The Habitable Zone: Scorched Earth Enigma” lets us imagine what future astronauts might face if we someday move beyond the Moon and Mars to visit worlds beyond our solar system (exoplanets).
To date, scientists have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets in our galaxy, with more being found every month. The question naturally arises: Is life possible on any of them?
This is the central theme of “The Habitable Zone” video series, in which each episode examines a different science consideration of conditions necessary to make an exoplanet hospitable to life, particularly humans. The name of the series is the same term used by astronomers to describe the region around stars in which an Earth-like planet could potentially support liquid water on its surface.
A good supply of liquid water would be a key step to nurturing life (at least as we know it) on an exoplanet.
The new episode (“Scorched Earth Enigma”), co-starring Parry Shen (“General Hospital”), examines how the activity of a host star could have devastating impacts on the atmospheres and oceans of their orbiting worlds. It continues the story of “Goldilocks Paradox,” the first episode in the series (released late 2018), where the explorers learned that both a planet’s composition and location are critical in determining whether it could be covered in liquid water.
The visuals for the series are created by the same science visualization team that has helped to illustrate some of NASA’s most significant astrophysics and exoplanet discoveries from missions like the Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes.
Viewers who want to know more about the astronomy covered in the Universe Unplugged videos can visit its website. There they can find fun facts for the episodes, links to related articles and educational resources, and after-show-style videos with astronomers digging into the science topics in greater depth.
NASA’s Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.
Video Website (including related links and resources): https://universeunplugged.org
Universe Unplugged YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/universeunplugged
More information about NASA’s Universe of Learning: https://www.universe-of-learning.org