When NASA first spoke about the announcement, we knew it was major news, so we listened closely to what they had to say. On July 23, 2015, startling revelation tantalized the ears of many hopefuls around the world. The question of whether we would find “another Earth” has plagued us for a long time. Now, we may finally be able to say, “We’ve found Earth 2.0”.
The Kepler Mission
After 5 years of searching, another milestone was reached when the Kepler mission confirmed an earth-like planet in the habitable zone of its star. The habitable zone is the area in which water can exist in its liquid state on the orbiting planet’s surface. The area was first discovered in March 2009 with the Kepler Space Telescope.
At 1,400 light years from the earth, the star, Kepler 452, has oddly similar characteristics to our sun. It has the same surface temperature and nearly the same energy output. This sun is interesting to us for one significant reason – it has a planet in its orbit that could be the next earth.
Orbiting around Kepler 452, is Kepler 452b. This is the earth-like planet that we speak of. Kepler 452b is the most similar planet to earth among the other 11 candidates recently discovered. One reason for this is because its sun is so similar to our sun. Kepler 452b takes 385 days to orbit its sun, which is a little more than our 365-day orbit. A year on Kepler is only 20 days longer than here!
“It’s the first terrestrial planet orbiting a sun much like our own,” says astronomer Douglass Caldwell at the SETI institute of Mountain View, California.
Energy absorption is not so different on Kepler 452b – only 10% and its size is 60% larger than earth. Although this may seem like a significant difference, it’s not so different in the larger scheme of things. Kepler 452b is also 5 times more massive than earth, indicating that it’s a rocky planet like our home. Kepler does, however, have twice the amount of gravity, making this a slight concern.
There is another interesting fact about Kepler 452b. It’s a bit older than our planet, having been in the habitability zone for 6 billion years. It stands to reckon that being older could mean more intelligent beings than the human race. At least it’s worth a ponder.
And how do we know these things?
To confirm findings, the NASA team conducted ground-based operations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, W.M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory at Mt. Hopkins, Arizona. This research confirmed what we know about Kepler 452b.
Associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, John Gruns of the Agencies Headquarters in Washington says,
“We are one step closer to finding “Earth 2.0! At the 20th Anniversary of the discovery of new suns and their planets, we may have found the one we’ve been searching for.”
Findings were presented in the Kepler Candidate Catalog and will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. Scientists hope to produce a last catalog in NASA’s four-year set. To determine the details of the planet, sophisticated software will show the signatures of these earth-like planets.
We won’t know for sure what Kepler 452b is like until we get there or, at least, see it through a more powerful telescope. Maybe Kepler is host to intelligent beings or maybe it is barren like Mars, considering the red planet is also in a habitable zone. Although we speculate, this discovery is still a major find. Oh, and to top it off, NASA recently announced the findings of 500 other planets! Let’s keep our head up and eyes to the sky.
Image credit: NASA