New Frontiers

By Kate Hassett

New Frontiers
NASA discovers Earth’s bigger, older cousin, Kepler 452b

Astronomers on the quest for habitable planets have discovered what we think to be the closest match to Earth thus far.

The planet, named Kepler 452b, is 1,400 light years away – a distance that still exists in the aptly named “Goldilocks zone” – where habitation could be an option due to it not being too hot or too cold.

The search for life outside of Earth may seem like a real life performance of epic film Interstellar, but it is in fact what many scientists consider to be a necessary step in ensuring the future of the human race.

This daunting concept lead to the planetary expedition launched in 2009 by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

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

If the terrain of the planet is rocky – as scientists have surmised, then it is believed to be going through a testing period. It is feared that the heat from its closest dying star, is causing the Kepler 452b’s lakes and oceans to dry up.

“Kepler 452b could be experiencing now what the Earth will undergo more than a billion years from now, as the sun ages and grows brighter.” Said Doug Caldwell, a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute scientist working on the Kepler mission.

On Thursday, NASA released a catalogue of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) which added more than 500 new planets to the listed 4,175 already discovered by the program.

Kepler 452b is so interesting to astronomers because, out of the 12 candidates in habitable zones, it is the first to be “confirmed as a planet” said NASA.

“Exoplanets, especially small Earth-size worlds, belonged within the realm of science fiction just 21 years ago. Today, and thousands of discoveries later, astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years — another Earth.”

 

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