Super-Earth gravity may prevent aliens from exploring space

A newly published study has presented an interesting possibility: aliens living on a distant "Super Earth" may be trapped on it by gravity that prevents space travel. Any civilization potentially existing on one of these massive planets may be greatly restricted in other ways, too; they likely wouldn't be able to launch satellites or a space telescope, for example, due to the huge associated cost.

The hunt for exoplanets has turned up multiple Super Earths — that is, potentially habitable planets similar to our own, but with a larger mass. Some of these Super Earths have as much as 10 times the mass of our own planet, which is believed to increase the odds of habitability, but it could come with an associated burden that greatly limits any present civilization's ability to explore the universe around them.

A Super Earth's greater mass would result in a stronger gravitational pull. That comes with benefits, like a thicker atmosphere. However, if an advanced civilization evolved on one of these planets, that strong gravitational pull would make it much harder for them to enter space versus what humans face on our own planet.

That's not to say that space travel would be entirely impossible. However, these potential civilizations would have to figure out how to deal with the very heavy weights — and associated costs — of the fuel necessary to carry a rocket into space. The study found, for example, that launching a payload similar to the James Webb Space Telescope could require 60,000 tons of fuel on a Super Earth.

Talking about this is the study's author Michael Hippke, who said in a statement to

I am surprised to see how close we as humans are to end up on a planet which is still reasonably lightweight to conduct spaceflight. Other civilizations, if they exist, might not be as lucky.