Kepler Discovers 12 'New Earths,' Including Most Earth-Like Planet Yet

Thursday, 23 July 2015 - 12:50PM
NASA
Astronomy
Astrobiology
Thursday, 23 July 2015 - 12:50PM
Kepler Discovers 12 'New Earths,' Including Most Earth-Like Planet Yet
The Kepler mission, which is devoted to finding planets outside of our solar system, has given the world an update that includes a whopping 500 new exoplanets, in addition to the 4,175 that have already been identified. Out of those 500 planets, a dozen have been deemed "Earth-like," in the sense that they're in their stars' habitable zones, are potentially rocky, and are less than twice the size of Earth. One of those twelve, Kepler 452b, orbits a star very much like our Sun, and has been designated the most Earth-like planet yet.

Kepler 452b, which lies 1400 light years away from Earth, has a radius 60% larger than Earth's and orbits its star at approximately the same distance as the Earth from the Sun. The star itself is also very similar to its analogue in our solar system; it's of the same class of stars, with 4% more mass and 10% more brightness than our Sun. All in all, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld told BBC that Kepler 452b the "closest so far" to Earth.

Opening quote
"Kepler 452b takes us one step closer to understanding how many habitable planets are out there," Joseph Twicken, lead scientific programmer for the Kepler mission, said in a statement. "Continued investigation of the other candidates in this catalog and one final run of the Kepler science pipeline will help us find the smallest and coolest planets. Doing so will allow us to better gauge the prevalence of habitable worlds."
Closing quote


There's no guarantee that the planet has liquid water or holds life, but there would be potential for both if it turns out to be rocky. Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine the composition of the planet, as it's contingent on the planet's mass. Kepler can determine the approximate size of the planet by comparing it to the nearest star, but the technology is not advanced enough to gauge the mass of a planet that's so far away. But still, Kepler scientists claim that there's a "better-than-even chance" that the planet is rocky.

Opening quote
"If Kepler 452b is indeed a rocky planet, its location vis-a-vis its star could mean that it is just entering a runaway greenhouse phase of its climate history," Doug Caldwell, a SETI Institute scientist working on the Kepler mission, told The Washington Post. "The increasing energy from its aging sun might be heating the surface and evaporating any oceans. The water vapor would be lost from the planet forever."
Closing quote


Although the exoplanet's star is only slightly brighter than our Sun, the planet is thought to be 1.5 billion years older than Earth, which means it could provide a window into the Earth's future approximately a billion years from now.

Opening quote
"Kepler 452b could be experiencing now what the Earth will undergo more than a billion years from now, as the sun ages and grows brighter," said Caldwell.
Closing quote
Science
Space
NASA
Astronomy
Astrobiology

Load Comments