For decades, scientists and astronomers have been working on the possibility of the existence of other habitable planets other than earth, and NASA has been playing an active role in this research. Although NASA has found many planets in the habitable zone, they were much bigger than our planet.
Kepler Space Observatory
NASA launched a deep space observatory with instructions to discover these Earth-like planets orbiting other suns in the Milky Way Galaxy. Named after the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, the Kepler Space Telescope found a planet similar to Earth, within the habitable zone. Though NASA can’t say for sure whether the planet is rocky like ours or has water and air, it’s the closest match yet found.
What We Know About The New Planet?
This newly discovered planet, termed by many as ‘Earth’s twin’ or ‘Earth’s cousin’, is named by the scientists as ‘Kepler 452b’. It is around 1,400 light years away from earth in the constellation ‘Cygnus’, and is said to be slightly larger than our Earth. The planet revolves around a sun-like star, which is about 20% brighter and 10% bigger than our own sun. The time that Kepler 452b takes to complete its orbit is 385 days, just a tad longer than the time which Earth takes to complete its orbit around our sun. The gravitational force on the planet is thought to be double than it is on Earth.
The planet’s star is told to be around six billion years old, which means that it is 1.5 billion years older than earth’s sun. So far, it is the smallest planet to have been discovered in the habitable zone.
Although this was not the first earth-sized planet discovered by scientists, a combination of factors makes it similar to Earth, out of all the other discovered planets. These factors, as mentioned above, include its distance from the sun, its size and the type of star it orbits.
A Scientist’s Observation on Kelper 452B
The head of NASA’s data analysis team at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, where Kepler 452B was discovered, Jon Jenkins said on the discovery of the planet “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 is awe inspiring to consider that this planet has spent six billion years in the habitable zone of its star; larger than earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet”.
Although scientists believe that there is a possibility of the presence of water and life on the new planet, extensive research needs to be done to confirm all such hypotheses. As scientists continue to do their work, we should be ready to get more surprising and awe-inspiring news in the future.
“Today, Earth is a little less lonely,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler researcher astronomer. “While it’s a bit farther from its star than Earth is from the sun, its star is brighter, so the planet gets about the same amount of energy from its star as Earth does from the sun. And that sunlight would be very similar to Earth’s”
It has also been determined that the planet most likely has an atmosphere, but probably is thicker than Earth’s atmosphere and would have a lot of active volcanoes. ”
But, because it is so far away, we are looking at what it looked like some 1,400 years ago. So even if we had the optical or digital technology to observe life, that would be life as it was 1,400 years earlier. With a little day dreaming, we could only imagine where life has gone since then.
The Kepler observatory costs $600 million to launch, but a better space observatory called the TESS will be launched in 2017 and then the James Webb Space Telescope is planned to be launched in 2018.
We can only imagine what lies ahead when finding more Earth-like planets in our galaxy.