Artist’s Concept of Kepler 452-B / Image Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
NASA held a teleconference today to announce the discovery of the most Earth-like planet yet to be found in the habitable zone orbiting a star similar to our own Sun.
The planet, which was discovered using data gathered by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, is designated Kepler 452B, and orbits a star some 1400 light years from Earth. Estimated to be roughly 60% larger in diameter and five five times the mass of Earth, the newly discovered Exo-planet is hardly an exact match, but it does occupy a 385 day orbit, which makes it remarkably close to our own.
While researchers are not absolutely certain the planet is indeed a rocky world as opposed to a smallish gas giant, the best computer models give it more than a 50% of being in the former category, an estimate which led NASA to proclaim that for the moment at least, it is in a class by itself. That moment may soon pass however, as there are 11 more Kepler “Objects of Interest” in the latest data set which have yet to be confirmed as planets, but would enter the same category if eventually confirmed. The system’s sun, which like our own is a G-2 type star, is estimated to be roughly 2 billion years older, a conclusion which also suggests that if there is liquid water on the surface, it may be in the form of lakes or basins bearing concentrated minerals, with any oceans having long since dried up.
As former astronaut and AA for Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld observed, although the comparatively high gravity found on this world would pose a burden to any human astronauts who somehow defied known physics to get there, they would not necessarily find it unbearable, pointing out that firefighters are required to qualify carrying loads as high as 80% of their own body weight.
The complete press release with info-graphics can be found on NASA.gov.