NASA scientists are reporting they’ve found the first Earth-sized planet that’s in the right place in another solar system to sustain life.
The planet, named Kepler-186f, was discovered using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. It’s just about the size of Earth, and just the right distance from its star, Kepler-186, that liquid water would be likely to pool on the planet’s service instead of freezing or boiling away. This area is often called the “Goldilocks zone,” not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Although scientists aren’t sure what type of planet Kepler-186f is, they have reason to suspect it has a rocky makeup, like the Earth.
“This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” said Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of a paper about the find published today in the journal Science. “Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope.”
“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth.Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward,” Quintana said.
There are some differences. The planet’s star is only about half the size and mass of our sun. It’s classified as an M-type red dwarf, while our sun is a G-type yellow dwarf. Red dwarf stars make up about 70 percent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
“M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”
In the announcement NASA also said Kepler-186f also “orbits its star once every 130-days and receives one-third the energy from its star that Earth gets from the sun, placing it nearer the outer edge of the habitable zone. On the surface of Kepler-186f, the brightness of its star at high noon is only as bright as our sun appears to us about an hour before sunset.”
So maybe not the ideal vacation spot. Tanning is right out.
Before you start planning your space ark, though, there are couple of things to consider. First, it’s 500 light-years away. Second, even though its size and location is promising, life on Kepler-186f is far from a sure thing.
“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”
As soon as NASA discovered what it had with Kepler-186f, it turned its listening devices there to try to pick up alien soap commercials or their version of I Love Lucy, according to a report on CNN. So far nothing yet.