NASA on Thursday unveiled a major new discovery that the agency says is a milestone in the journey to finding another Earth. Located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, researchers have discovered Kepler-452b, an Earth-like planet said to be in the habitable zone of its parent star, potentially making it a candidate for liquid water. It means our lonely home planet might not be so unique after all.
Kepler-452b is estimated to be 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth, though its size still indicates a rocky surface. Additionally, it has a similar orbit around its host star—385 days—while it’s just 5-percent farther from its parent star (Kepler 452) than Earth is to the Sun. They’re eerily similar in a lot of ways, making it the best possible candidate (so far) for an Earth 2.0.
“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, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Jenkins added that Kepler-452b has spent roughly 6 billion years, give or take, in the habitable zone, which is longer than Earth. “That’s a substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
Kepler-452, meanwhile, is estimated to be about 6 billion years old as well—about 1.5 billion years older than our own sun—but has the same surface temperature.
Scientists have been hot on the trail of super Earths for the past several years, discovering a myriad of candidates. But today’s discovery is among the best we’ve seen, and brings us yet another step closer to finding Earth’s twin.