25Jul2015

NASA Discovers Earth’s Bigger, Older Cousin

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the firs

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Picture: NASA Ames

“ARE we alone in the universe? “We’re taking one small step in answering that question today.” And with that, astronomers hunting for another Earth announced they have found what may be an answer.

Its the closest match yet, a potenti ally rocky planet circling its star at the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun, NASA said overnight. “Until about 20-years ago, we didn’t know the answer to that. Now we have a definitive answer. “Today we’re announcing the discovery of an exoplanet that as far as we can tell, is a pretty close cousin to the Earth and our sun.

“This is about the closest twin to Earth 2.0 that we’ve found so far, and I really emphasise so far.” Not only is this planet squarely in the Goldilocks zone — where life could exist because it is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water — its star looks like an older cousin of our Sun, the US space agency said.

Artist impression of the surface of Kepler 452b created by the SETI institute, who have b

Artist impression of the surface of Kepler 452b created by the SETI institute, who have been working in conjunction with NASA. Credit: SETI Institute/Danielle Futselaar Source: Supplied

http://resources3.news.com.au/images/2015/07/24/1227454/818811-31be74e4-3171-11e5-84b9-a1a3901352f2.jpg

How the planets stack up in comparison to Kepler-452b. Picture: NASA Source: Supplied

WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

Known as Kepler-452b, the planet was detected by the US space agency’s Kepler Space Telescope, which has been hunting for other worlds like ours since 2009.

“Kepler-452b is orbiting a close cousin of our Sun, but one that is 1.5 billion years older,” NASA said in a statement.

Kepler-452b orbits a parent star, belonging to the same class as the sun, it’s just 4 per cent bigger and 10 per cent brighter. It takes 385 days to orbit the star.

Its radius is 60 per cent larger than Earth with a likely mass five times that of our own.

“You and I would weigh twice as much as we do now on the planet”, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

 The Physical Make-up

The sweep of NASA Kepler mission’s search for small, habitable planets in the last six ye

The sweep of NASA Kepler mission’s search for small, habitable planets in the last six years. Picture: NASA Source: Supplied

“We’d also expect the atmosphere to be thicker and with more cloud cover, with very active volcanoes.” Kepler-452b’s orbit is nearly the same size of Earth, using ten per cent more energy. According to NASA, Earth will follow in Kepler’s footsteps and will receive the same amount of energy in 1.5 billion years.

The planet, located in the “habitable zone” of the universe, lies 1,400 light years away. “We know little about the atmosphere about this planet, it certainly has an atmosphere but details of its composition are totally unknown to us,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

IS THERE EVIDENCE OF LIFE ON 452B?

There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet

There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalogue — an increase of 521 since the release of the previous catalogue in Jan. 2015. The blue dots show planet candidates from previous catalogues, while the yellow dots show new candidates from the seventh catalogue. New planet candidates continue to be found at all periods and sizes due to continued improvement in the detection techniques. Picture: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel Source: Supplied

Jenkins was wary about confirming or denying this, adding Kepler’s job description was to “count the number of small planets in our near the habitable zones of sun-like stars” instead of touching down on the planet and searching for alien life.

“The exciting thing is we’ve found so many planetary systems that are unlike our solar system. Signs of life require advanced technology and instruments in space, and so what Kepler is doing is telling us there are world’s out there that we can go forward and pursue following them up.”

 COULD HUMANS LIVE ON THE PLANET?

Today Kepler-452b is receiving 10 percent more energy from its parent star than the Earth

Today Kepler-452b is receiving 10 per cent more energy from its parent star than the Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452b has spent six billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. Picture: NASA Ames/J. Jenkins Source: Supplied

“This is humankind’s first step,” said Kepler research scientist Jeff Coughlin. “It’s a long-term goal but a very exciting one. “You and I probably won’t be travelling to these planets — but our children’s children could be. This gives us something to aim for.”

“One generation from now we might be able to get there. It gives humankind something to shoot for.” Coughlin went on to say that Mars was the next closest habitable planet in our solar system. News.Com.Au

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