NASA’s Kepler Mission just confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This is the first discovery of its kind. While NASA has been discovering new planets daily for the past 20 years, and “habitable zone” planets every so often, this is the first time that they have found a world that so closely resembles Earth giving it the best shot at sustaining life as we know it.
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
The planet Kepler 452b as it’s called, is no stroll across the solar system. It is a solid 1400 light years away. Much farther than many other planets considered to be in the “habitable zone.” But 452b is now being dubbed Earth 2.0. While the planet itself is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth, it is only 5 percent further from the sun then our rock, AND has just slightly longer of a year, roughly 385 days. These components are considered the most crucial when it comes to housing life similar to our planet. From what we know so far, this planet is about as close as you can get to Earth as possible without being directly related. I guess 452b would be Earth’s cousin if you want to define it in family terms.
This might be a better way to see how much better this new planet is than the ones previously discovered. So NASA has about a dozen or so planets considered “best” candidates to house life like Earth, but all the other planets are often much larger than Earth, leading scientists to believe that they may be made of gas and not rock. They are also orbiting a slightly different type of sun which can give off varying amounts of radiation and are all cooler than our sun.
In this diagram, the sizes of the exoplanets are represented by the size of each sphere. These are arranged by size from left to right, and by the type of star they orbit, from the M stars that are significantly cooler and smaller than the sun, to the K stars that are somewhat cooler and smaller than the sun, to the G stars that include the sun. The sizes of the planets are enlarged by 25 times compared to the stars. The Earth is shown for reference. Credits: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
So now what? Well, it’s a waiting game. Kepler was only designed to find potential planets, but it’s analysis of said planets is somewhat crude and lacks details necessary to definitively conclude life on other worlds. The hope is that several planned missions and satellites over the next 20 years will give us a FAR better look at distant worlds and finally give us the answer that many of us have thought about for years; are we along in the universe?