There has been some interesting news from a NASA press conference today, as it was announced that the Kepler telescope has found a planet that shares many characteristics with our own planet. The planet, Kepler-452b has a radius around 60% larger than earth’s, but orbits it’s star at a similar distance, meaning that if the planet hosts water, it could be hospitable to life.
Scientists that worked on the mission have said they believed it was the most Earth-like planet yet, with NASA’s science chief John Grunsfeld calling the new world the “closest so far” to Earth. Kepler data analysis lead, John Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead added: “It’s a real privilege to deliver this news to you today. There’s a new kid on the block that’s just moved in next door.”
Last year another earth-like planet was discovered, Kepler-186f. This planet however, orbits a red dwarf star which are much cooler than our own Sun. The star that Kepler-452b orbits is of the same class as our own Sun, just a small bit bigger and brighter and 1.5 billion years older.
The newly discovered planet is estimated to be (most likely) five times more massive than Earth, which would mean it’s would have twice the surface gravity.
As the planet’s star is that much older than our Sun, and at a brighter stage, this could mean that any water that was present on the planet may long since have evaporated. This of course could be a stark look at the future of our own planet as our sun will too get brighter and hotter as it ages.
“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,” explained Dr Doug Caldwell, a Seti Institute scientist working on the Kepler mission.
“The increasing energy from its ageing sun might be heating the surface and evaporating any oceans. The water vapour would be lost from the planet forever.”
“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.”
Of course, as there isn’t currently a concrete way to measure the mass, we do not know what kind of surface the planet has, rocky, gassy or something else so there’s no telling whether this could be home to some kind of life or not. It is however, a great announcement from the Kepler mission and may lead to some more interesting discoveries in the future.
We currently do not have the capability to send a probe to the planet, as it would still take many decades, however there may be some telescopes closer to home that could view the planet more closely and possibly tell if the planet is home to water, the main ingredient for life.
Also announced were the findings of 12 planets in the habitable zone of their host stars with radii below two Earth radii which is quite a good result in comparison with previous years. You can take a look at the comparisons of the different planets found below.