Last updated August 8, 2019 at 10:15 am
Dr Matt Agnew gave us the lowdown on his scientific career, the search for aliens, and why he loves science.
Yes Matt Agnew is an actual astrophysicist. He might have 20 women orbiting him on The Bachelor, but when it comes to finding planets that could support life, he’s the real deal.
Matt’s research is searching for new planets that could be the home of alien life. Over the past few years we’ve realised just how many stars have planets orbiting them, like our own solar system. And, if the conditions are right, they could host life like Earth.
But one of the questions that we don’t know the answer to is how many of those planets might be out there. We are also still working out where to look for them. And that’s where Matt comes in.
“My work is about trying to find where we should look to find other planets like Earth,” says Matt.
“I look at the enormous collection of 4000-plus exoplanets (planets around stars) and try to narrow that down to the ones that have the most scientific interest (for the potential of supporting life).”
On the search for other planets like Earth and Jupiter
In particular, he looks at other solar systems that might have planets like our own, and in particular ones that have planets like Jupiter – the largest planet in our solar system.
“Jupiter is very important to creating an environment that is beneficial for life on Earth. So I look at systems that have a Jupiter-like planet, and then which of those would have a stable Earth-like planet in the habitable zone.”
That habitable zone – also referred to as the Goldilocks Zone – is an area around stars where conditions are just right to support life – not too hot and not too cold.
“Finding those habitable worlds is important for trying to understand how we belong and how we fit into everything.”
Alien life could be out there, somewhere
But you probably shouldn’t expect alien life we find to be like us – or what’s in movies.
“I’m a very firm believer that there is life out there.”
“I think the life we discover will most likely be microbial. I’m sure there must be life that has developed, with some kind of capability to evolve. It could potentially be so exotic. Compared to our carbon-based understanding of life that we have on Earth, it could be unrecognisable.
“It’s such an exciting question.
“Is there something special about Earth? Or do these things happen with a certain degree of frequency?
“If we do find life (or evidence of life previously), it will give us an idea that life developing is a really generic process, but if we don’t… I think that’s really exciting. It kind of puts in perspective that something really special has happened here.
“Understanding the frequency of having a planet like Earth, that can have liquid water and have all the ingredients there, is one of the steps to answering those questions.”
Matt’s always been into planets
This interest in planets began early for Matt.
“As a kid I was really interested in planets in our own solar system. It was something I just found really fascinating.”
Matt loves science, and encourages people to follow their interest to get involved.
“Science is such a rewarding career. Everyday you’re pursuing something that is just such an intense passion and interest.
“It’s a very unique and rewarding career path. If you’ve got that interest you should absolutely nurture it and pursue it.”