Since its launch in March of 2009, NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft has been scouring the cosmos in search of planets that share similar attributes to our Earth.
Over those six years, Kepler has discovered a total of 1,030 Earth-like planets, but their latest discovery might just be the best on yet. John Grunsfeld is associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate:
“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,”
Grunsfeld said at a NASA press conference this morning. He added that the new discovery, “brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”
The newly discovered planet, Kepler-452b, is the smallest planet to be discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of a G2 star (the same classification as our Sun). The habitable zone is the region around a star where conditions allow liquid water to pool on the surface of a planet.
But the similarities don’t end there: Kepler-452b’s 385-day orbit is only 5% longer than Earth’s, and the planet is only 5% further from its star than Earth is from our Sun. The planet is also the same temperature as Earth, according to NASA, and has a diameter that is only 10% larger.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,”
said Jon Jenkins, one of the Kepler Mission’s lead data analysts. Jenkins added,
“It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
Kepler-452b is located roughly 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. Its mass and composition have yet to be determined, but scientists say that previous research suggests the planet is probably rocky.
Read the full press release from NASA.