NASA's Kepler spacecraft has spotted something pretty nifty: "Earth's bigger, older cousin."
The Earth-size planet, Kepler-452b, was found circling a sun-like star in an orbit that takes 385 days. The planet is located solidly in the star's "habitable zone," the distance from the star that means the planet has a chance of having liquid water that could actually sustain life and everything. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030, according to a NASA release.
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"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."
Yup, that's right, the whole point of the Kepler mission is to find the next bigger and better Earth. This planet is the closest in size and possibilities to Earth so far. The planet is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and there's a decent chance that it will have a rocky terrain much like our own. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger. Cool, right?
NASA scientists were on the effusive side about this discovery when the announcement was issued Thursday. “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," Jon Jenkins, a Kepler researcher, stated. "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.”
So yeah, NASA has now found a planet located about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, and it might be able to support life. Not that long ago, the thought of this would have been total science fiction, but it's now just science.