America’s space agency NASA has today unveiled the new findings of the Kepler Space Telescope, taking “one small step in answering” the question of whether the Earth is alone in the universe as an inhabitable planet, in their own words.
Kepler 452-B, the newly discovered “exoplanet”, is said to be similar in size to Earth, as well as being in the “habitable zone” or “goldilocks zone” of its star – something previously undiscovered. Most new, ‘Earth-like’ planets have been several times the size of Earth.
But the new planet, which has raised hopes of finding another human-inhabitable world, as well as perhaps finding life elsewhere in the universe, looks like the closest “cousin” of our own planet yet.
NASA reports that the planet is the right “range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet” and in a press conference said: “It’s Earth 2.0.“
The planet even has the same length of year – that is how long the planet takes to orbit its star – as Earth.
In 2014, the agency found a similar planet, Kepler 186F, which is also believed to have similar traits to Earth.
“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington last April.
But it’s not all easy street from here in terms of finding alien life, or indeed assuming Kepler 452B is habitable.
Speaking at the time of the last discovery, Thomas Barclay, a research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames said, “Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has.”
Kepler 452B is said to be “rocky” and geologists have said there is a chance that the planet has active volcanos, implying there could be surface water.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a place that somebody else might call home,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler’s data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.