|Artist's rendering of newly discovered Kepler 186f.|
Five hundred light years from Earth in Cygnus A, five planets circle a small, low-energy star. The M-dwarf gives off a reddish light and less heat than our own G-type Sol, but the solar system it anchors, dubbed Kepler 186, is nonetheless remarkable. The fifth planet in that system is the closest yet to being what we could call “Earth-like”, with a size, composition, distance from its sun, possible temperature and potential for liquid surface water and atmosphere similar to our own.
The find was announced April17 by scientists of NASA’s Kepler orbiting telescope project, and is detailed in the current issue of Science magazine. Kepler's mission is to scout the galaxy for planetary bodies. As mission science improves, planetary finds are coming thick and fast, with more and more falling into the “Goldilocks zone”, that orbital distance from the sun that is “not too near and not too far” to allow for proper temperature and liquid surface water to support life as we know it.
|Born under a red sun? |
Kepler 186f, as the new planet has been named, is a mere ten percent larger than Earth, which makes it almost certainly a rocky planet like ours. Of the Kepler telescopes’ previous 961 discoveries, only a few dozen have been in the habitable zone, and most of them have been gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn. That makes the new discovery more like home than any yet discovered.
Harvard scientist David Charbonneau, who was not part of the NASA team, confirmed it. “Now we can point to a star and know that there really is a planet very similar to the Earth, at least in size and temperature.”
As for that red sun? Well, we might just have to call the planet Krypton.
Information for this article provided from “Planet Possesses Earth Features”, by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer, THE FREE-LANCE STAR, April 18, 2014. Artists' renditions credit NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech.