Pack Up, Kepler Finds Another Earth
We may not be to the point of packing up our belongings and moving clear across the solar system, but Kepler has found another Earth-like planet in the habitable zone (an area where water could pool on the surface of a planet orbiting around a sun-like star) that has scientists excited.
Kepler 452-b and Its Sun
Named Kepler-452b this Earth-sized planet is the smallest planet discovered by NASA’s space observatory; however, it is 60 percent larger than Earth. It is located in the constellation of Cygnus and is about 1,400 light-years in distance. Even though scientists are still unsure of this planet’s composition or mass, they do know it will probably be very rocky and it does complete a 385 day-orbit around its parent star.
Even more coincidental, this faux Earth’s Sun is about the same temperature as ours, is 10 percent larger in diameter, 20 percent brighter and is only five percent further away from its “Sun” (Kepler-452) then we are from ours. In addition, Kepler-452 is also estimated to be about six billion years-old (only 1.5 billion years older than the Sun).
Could this planet be Earth’s older cousin?
Scientists Are “Beaming”
With all the decades of searching for another planet like Earth, Kepler’s discover has scientists “beaming” with joy. According to lead data analysis at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mottfett Field, California, Jon Jenkins,
“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.”
Jenkins led the team that discovered this “new” Earth and happily says;
“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.”
Kepler-452b was further studied from three different ground-based observatories; University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Kepler was launched on March 07, 2009 and is named after the Renaissance astronomer, Johannes Kepler. This space observatory is on a mission to find Earth-like planets orbiting a parent star and has already located several amongst the billions of stars in our solar system.
This marvel-of-technology is armed with only one instrument; the photometer. This “telescope” continually monitors over 145,000 main sequence stars for brightness. The data it receives is then transmitted back to Earth and is analyzed for periodic dimming which would indicate an extrasolar planet that crosses in front of its host star (like Earth and our Sun).
What has Kepler Snooped Out?
As of November 2014, Kepler has found as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone orbiting red dwarf stars within the Milky Way. In addition, about 11 billion of these planets may be orbiting Sun-like stars.
Whether there is another Earth out there is yet to be determined, but with Kepler’s ever-searching eye in the space-sky, who knows what we may find?