NASA has discovered a new planet outside our solar system and they describe it as our close cousin. Kepler 452b, discovered using the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope, is about 60 per cent larger than Earth, making it a type of planet called a super-Earth, but scientists think it likely to be rocky, NASA researchers said at a news conference today.
Kepler orbits a star similar to our sun at a distance similar to the distance between the Earth and the sun. “The planet appears to be the closest twin, so to speak, to Earth … that we’ve found so far.” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington said.
“The planet is like a close cousin than an exact twin because of its larger size, which would give it five times the mass of the Earth and double the gravity. But its less than twice the diameter of Earth, which means it’s likely to have a rocky surface. Planets larger than that are not solid, but gassy, like Jupiter.” He added.
Kepler 452b would have a thicker atmosphere than Earth, with more cloud cover, and is likely to still have very active volcanoes, said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
The star it orbits is the first G2 star similar to our sun ever found with a small planet in its habitable zone. That star is about six billion years old, the researchers estimate, or about 1.5 billion years older than our sun.
“That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet,” Jenkins said.
The planet is described to be more like ours because the amount of sunshine it gets is expected to be similar to that on Earth, said Jenkins. “It would feel a lot like home,” he added. Astronomers have been keen to find rocky planets in the “Goldilocks” or “habitable” zones of their stars – the region in which the temperature is right for liquid water, and therefore life as we know it, to exist. If there are a lot of them, as this and other recent discoveries suggest, the chances are very good that there is other life in the universe besides us.
Many planets have been discovered but most of them are larger or smaller compared to earth. The Kepler team announced the discovery of 521 more potential exoplanets, bringing the total number detected to date to 4,696, including 1,030 that have been confirmed. Reports