NASA Announces Discovery of Earth-Like Exoplanet

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“Super Earth” Kepler-452b Lies in Habitable Zone of Distant Star

Kepler-452b

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The search for life on other worlds has taken multiple bold steps this week. Earlier, famed physicist Stephen Hawking helped announce a new $100 million search for intelligent life. Now, NASA has announced the discovery of the first near-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star.

In an announcement released today, the American space agency revealed that its Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of the Kepler-452 system. According to NASA, the discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark “another milestone in the journey to finding another Earth.”

The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

NASA Discovers Exoplanet in Habitable Zone

This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury.
Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

Dubbed Kepler-452b, the planet is the smallest to date discovered orbiting in the area of a star where liquid-water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery is even more significant because the star in question is a G2-type star, like Earth’s own sun.

While small compared to other discovered exoplanets, Kepler-452b is still 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth. Thus, it is considered to be a “super-Earth-size” planet. NASA has not reached a conclusion as to its mass or composition, but previous research indicates planets of the super-Earth-size variety have a good chance of being rocky.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, was quoted as saying:

On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun. This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.

Similarities to Earth

Kepler-452b orbits its star every 385 days. That is only 5 percent longer than a single Earth year. The planet is also only 5 percent farther from its star than Earth is to the Sun. Kepler-452’s star is 1.5 billion years older than our Sun, but it has the same temperature and is 20 percent brighter.

Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center, led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. He commented:

We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment. It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.

The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life

As Professor Hawking said earlier this week, “[I]n an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life.” So what does the discovery of Kepler-452b mean for those interested in UFOs and the so-called “extraterrestrial hypothesis?”

The question is difficult to answer, but some facts must be borne in mind. The most important is that Kepler-452b is in a system located 1,400 light years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus. Thus, a spacecraft arriving at Earth today would have departed in the year 615 AD, assuming it traveled the speed of light.

Kepler 452b

This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Allowing for some exotic means of transportation that enabled faster-than-light travel, the trip could have been shorter. However no evidence has been presented which indicates the existence of such an advanced civilization, although it is possible that Kepler-452b will now be given a closer look by Earth-based radio telescopes and other instruments. Perhaps these will detect the tell-tale signs of an advanced civilization orbiting a world not too dissimilar to our own.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/kepler.

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