NASA’s Kepler telescope has found a habitable planet within the Milky Way with striking similarities to our own home world – so much so that it has already been coined as Earth 2.0.
Christened with the snappy name Kepler-425b, the newly discovered planet was described by Dr Suzanne Aigrain, lecturer in astrophysics at Oxford University, as “the most Earth-like I’ve come across for a confirmed planet to date”.
“The most Earth-like I’ve come across for a confirmed planet to date”
The Kepler telescope was launched in 2009 and has discovered over 1000 planets so far. Planets are difficult to detect because they can only reflect light – not radiate it like stars do and are therefore difficult to see. Instead of looking for that planet directly, Kepler looks at the light coming from a star and monitors it over a long period of time. It detects that a planet is there if the brightness of the star dips (as the planet moves between the star and the telescope, blocking out some of the light) then rises again (as the planet moves out of the path of star light as it continues on it’s orbit).
The newly discovered planet orbits within the habitable zone of it’s star, making life on it’s surface a real possibility
Planets discovered by Kepler are then analysed to see if they are in the ‘habitable zone’ of the star which they orbit. As far as we know, in order for life to exist, liquid water must be present. This means the temperature of the surface of the planet must range between the freezing point (0°C) and boiling point (100°C) of water. The closer to a star the planet is, the higher the temperature of the planet’s surface. The area in which a planet can orbit in order for the temperature to be just right is called the ‘habitable zone’.
The newly discovered planet orbits within the habitable zone of it’s star, making life on it’s surface a real possibility. The orbit of the planet has been the same for billions of years, which offers a real chance that intelligent life could have had enough time to evolve.
Kepler – 425b’s size is similar to the Earth’s (approximately 60% larger) which leads scientists to predict that any inhabitants would have a rocky surface to live on. When the data was handed over to geologists, they found a real possibility of active volcanoes on it’s surface.
425b lies 1400 light years away form Earth
The similarities to Earth don’t stop there. 425b takes 380 days to orbit its star, comparable to the 365 days it takes the Earth to complete it’s orbit. The star itself is also similar to our own Sun. It is roughly the same size and shape but 1.5 billion years older and therefore offers a fascinating insight into the Earth’s future.
Although this sounds like one of the best destinations in the galaxy, it’s going to take a while to get there. 425b lies 1400 light years away form Earth. Considering the New Horizons spacecraft that recently sent back stunning photographs of Pluto took nine and a half years to reach its destination, getting a probe out to orbit Earth’s big brother would take 550 million years. In fact, for us to send a message to 425b asking if there was intelligent life and for us to receive a reply from the population would take 2800 years.
As a visit to the planet is out of the question, scientists will be employing local satellites to find out more. Primitive maps can be plotted and the atmosphere examined to look for evidence of life. Such evidence would indicate life but would not be able to prove it. As ever, more research and advances in technology will be required for us to learn if we truly have a twin in Kepler-425b but this is the closest relation found thus far.
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