Hey there, and welcome to Play Noggin.
I’m Julian, your brain’s Player Two.
If you’re a normal person, at one time or
another you’ve looked up into the night
sky and wondered if we were alone in the universe.
Prolific game developer Bioware made a killer
trilogy of games called Mass Effect that explores
this idea in great detail.
Maybe you’ve heard of it.
We did a whole episode on it.
Now there’s an all new chapter, Mass Effect
The original trilogy was famous in part for
the different choices a player could make,
which ultimately lead to 3 different endings,
each of which had several variations, meaning
a direct sequel would be a mess right from
The newest installment sidesteps this issue
in a clever way.
After Mass Effect 2, and prior to the beginning
of Mass Effect 3, a group of humans were sent
into deep space in an effort to save the human
race — people weren’t so sure if this whole
Reaper thing would just blow over.
After voyaging for hundreds of years in suspended
animation, you and your fellow travelers are
unfrozen in the milky way’s nearest galactic
neighbor, Andromeda, which is just a hop,
skip, and two and a half million light years
So you’re still in the same universe, literally
and figuratively, you’re just in a different
This allows the developers to tell a brand
new story without negating anything that might
have happened in your original trilogy playthrough.
You chose Destruction?
Well, I chose Synthesis!
How do we reconcile that?
Easy: Everything is still canon — the events
of the first games just take place a long
time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Wait, let’s find a less litigious way of
saying that… a significant while ago, in
a star cluster a good distance from here.
You stay away, mouse!
So, say we find ourselves in a situation similar
to the one found in the original Mass Effect
Maybe we’re not threatened by Reapers, but
by something a little more insidious, like
horrific climate change.
Could we pack our bags and find a new home
among the stars?
How realistic is the idea of finding even
one other habitable planet out there?
The events of Mass Effect Andromeda actually
have a particularly pertinent ring to them
Astronomers recently discovered seven new
exoplanets — a word that just means a planet
orbiting a star other than our sun — in a
star system not too far from here.
Any one of those planets could, in theory,
be able to support life.
They’re all orbiting a star called Trappist-1,
in the constellation Aquarius 40 light-years
That’s 378 trillion kilometers, or 12 parsecs,
or 1 Kessel run.
OK, nobody share this video with Disney’s
Scientists believe today that there are actually
a great many more habitable planets in the
universe than we once thought, and you don’t
have to go all the way to another galaxy to
Current research suggests about one in five
stars with characteristics similar to our
sun have at least one planet in the “habitable
zone,” a distance that allows for liquid
water — and thus life as we know it — to
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re super likely
to run into a bunch of Asari jetting around
out there, but it does mean that life in a
form we might recognize is possible elsewhere
in the universe.
One study estimates that approximately 8.8
billion habitable, earth-sized planets exist
in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each of
those lies within what is known as the Goldilocks
Zone — not too hot, not too cold, but potentially
just right for life.
If you think that sounds like a ton of potentially
habitable planets are out there, you’d be
We’re talking about a near infinite universe,
and any number times infinity is…
Well, you get the idea.
Mass Effect Andromeda represents that scale
by giving you large planets to explore, some
of which are as large as the entire playable
area of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
If you haven’t played that game, just know:
That’s a lot of playable space.
Since we’re not working with the sort of
tech that Mass Effect’s super-advanced scientists
have access to, how do we determine if a distant
planet is potentially habitable?
First we need to find them.
There are many tools for hunting exoplanets:
the Spitzer space telescope observed Trappist-1,
the dwarf star with the 7 planets…
Wait is that a disney reference?
I can’t even tell anymore.
But the biggest name in exoplanet hunting
right now is the Kepler spacecraft, a special
mission launched by NASA just to find extra-solar
To spot planets, Kepler uses the transit method
— essentially, the massively powerful telescope
observes the miniscule reduction in light
that occurs when a planet passes between us
and its star.
When this transiting occurs at regular intervals,
we know we’ve found a planet.
Based on how much light is blocked, we’re
able to tell how big the planet is.
The length of time between transits shows
us the planet’s orbit, and thus its probable
distance from the star and its temperature.
An earth-sized planet the right distance from
a star with hospitable temperatures doesn’t
mean the planet has life for certain, but
it opens the door to that possibility.
So, we’re able to identify potentially habitable
But how do we determine a planet is actually
We can’t just send a team down in a Mako
-Excuse me, now it’s called the Nomad, sorry
EA- and have them collect samples.
I mean, that would be cool, but we’re just
not there yet.
Fortunately, NASA has that figured out, too.
In order for a planet to capably support life,
it must possess “extended regions of liquid
water, conditions favorable for the assembly
of complex organic molecules, and energy sources
to sustain metabolism.”
This definition could change if we someday
discover life that is able to thrive in the
absence of liquid water, but for now, this
is what we’re like so that’s what we’re
There are other prerequisites, too: a planet
needs to rotate on its axis and revolve around
its star, and ideally it should tilt similarly
to earth, giving the planet seasons, and creating
an environment more conducive to evolution.
The planet needs to be rocky, not gaseous.
It also needs a magnetic field around the
planet which protects life from harmful radiation
and keeps the atmosphere from being stripped
And it’d be nice if the gravity was like
ours so our bones don’t get crushed, though
we could probably adapt to lower gravity planets.
There’s more, but you get the idea.
The more earth-like a planet is, the more
confident we are it could support life.
Scientists are particularly excited by the
discovery of the Trappist-1 planets, because
they no longer have to speculate about whether
those sorts of planets exist.
They’re out there, and now we simply need
to study them to find out what secrets they
If you want a taste of the future of space
exploration, check out Mass Effect Andromeda.
it launches on March 21st in North America.[o]
EA let us take a sneak peek at the game and
it’s everything we hoped it’d be.
We got to run around on some huge and gorgeous
exoplanets, but that’s literally just scratching
Thanks for watching.
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Noggin, and please share this video with your
Mass Effect-loving friends.
We get to do cool stuff like talk about games
before they’re released because we’re
growing, and it’s all thanks to you guys.
[p]Check out our first Mass Effect video here,
and if you have a suggestion for a game we
should cover, drop it in the comments.
And don’t forget to keep on playing.