Scientists are having a harder time finding Earth-like planets because of the multitude of requirements that such planets must fulfil. But this week, NASA made an impressive new discovery of a new Earth-like planet called Kepler 452b. It’s Earth’s older, bigger and wiser cousin.
According to Jon Jenkins, Kepler mission data analysis lead, the newly discovered exoplanet will allow scientists to understand Earth’s evolving environment better. But in the Milky Way galaxy alone, there may be over a billion “Earths”, and plausibly, life could have evolved on at least some of those planets.
Kepler 425b, for instance, is approximately 60 percent larger in radius than the planet we call home (granted, scientists are still having difficulties accurately measuring this exoplanet as it lies over 1,400 light years away). And much like Earth, Kepler 425b also orbits a warm and light-offering sun, much like our solar system’s star. Astronomers say that it is a G-type yellow dwarf, approximately 6 billion years old.
And the best part is that, aside from Kepler, no one has actually seen Kepler 425b. That sounds confusing, yet it’s true. Other instruments cannot detect the planet that is both too dim and too far away. Consequently, the planet’s discovery raises more questions than the answers it actually provides. Researchers aren’t certain that it’s a rocky planet, an essential element. But aside from that, there isn’t much that scientists can say regarding its atmosphere (or lack thereof), its surface water (and whether it exists) or its parent star.
What they do know for sure is its orbital period, which, scientists say is approximately 385 years, after studying the exoplanet’s parent star’s light dimming.
This thrilling discovery also suggests that Kepler 452b had more than enough time to brew life, Jenkins says. Granted, the exoplanet is located farther away from its parent star, however, the yellow dwarf shines brighter and hotter, meaning that Earth 2.0 receives similar amounts of energy from its sun. As such, though undemonstrated yet, the planet should “almost certainly” have an atmosphere.
If these assumptions are correct, scientists and planetary geologists have theorized how this atmosphere would be like. It seems that Kepler 452b’s atmosphere would be thicker than our planet’s atmosphere. The planet should also host more active volcanoes than the Blue Planet does, they say.
But why focus on one single planet when there are so many possible Earth-like planets just waiting to be discovered?
Kepler has only started discovering potentially habitable planets all across the Milky Way and it will continue doing so. Scientists responsible for the mission are examining the light originating from stars millions of miles away from Earth to observe unexpected dimming in their light, suggesting planets orbiting them. So patience is key.
Photo credits: NASA