Most Earth-like planet yet discovered by Kepler
The Kepler Spacecraft recently reached a new milestone after discovering its 1,000th confirmed exoplanet beyond our solar system. That in itself is impressive, but to make it even more so, of the eight planets it recently spotted, one of them appears to be the most Earth-like planet discovered so far.
The most recent batch of eight confirmed exoplanets discovered by the Kepler Spacecraft pushes the total number to 1,004. The vast majority of those planets were immediately deemed to be unfit to potentially feature Earth-like conditions, but the new group is especially promising.
Of the over 1,000 exoplanets discovered since the telescope spacecraft was launched in 2009, prior to this discovery only five have been entered into the “Kepler Hall of Fame.” To be part of that exclusive club, an exoplanet must be located with the “goldilocks” region of a star, placing it near enough to the star to support liquid water. If the planet is too far away that water will freeze, too close and it boils. It must also be less than twice the size of Earth.
Counting the new exoplanets just confirmed, that Hall of Fame just jumped from five to eight.
“These candidates represent the closest analogues to the Earth-sun system found to date, and this is what Kepler has been looking for,” Fergal Mullally of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center told National Geographic. “We are now closer than we have ever been to finding a twin for Earth around a star.”
To make it even more astounding of a find, one of those three new entrants is being described as the most Earth-like planet yet discovered.
The exoplanet classified as Kepler 438b is 12-percent larger than Earth, and researchers believe that it receives 40-percent more heat from its star than Earth receives from the sun. That would make it warmer, but the star is a red dwarf, which might slightly mitigate that heat. It would also create a red sky if we ever stepped foot on it – something that is unlikely to happen anytime soon given its distance from Earth. Kepler 438b is roughly 475 light years away.
Astronomers also can’t confirm what the planet is made of, although it is rocky like Earth. We can’t tell much more beyond that though.
“From the Kepler measurements and the other measurements we made, we don’t know if these planets have oceans with fish and continents with trees,” Dr Caldwell, also from the SETI Institute told BBC News.
“All we know is their size and the energy they’re receiving from their star. So we can say: Well, they’re of a size that they’re likely to be rocky, and the energy they’re getting is comparable to what the Earth is getting. As we fill in these gaps in our solar system that we don’t have, we learn more about what it means to be Earth-like, in some sense.”
Update: This article had an earlier typo. In one sentence, Kepler 438b was incorrectly listed as Kepler 428b