I get really excited every time I hear news about NASA.
Researchers have discovered a planet which is estimated to be 10% larger than Earth and could possibly be habitable. It has been dubbed Kepler-186f, and it circles a red dwarf star 490 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.
“This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” said Elisa Quintana of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute at NASA. “Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope.”
“This discovery not only proves the existence of worlds that might be similar to our own but will undoubtedly shape future investigations of exoplanets that could have terrestrial surface environments,” the institute said in an announcement yesterday.
Three years ago, NASA had stated that Kepler had observed five planets approximately the size of Earth and in the habitable zone.
The SETI Institute said in a written announcement yesterday that those planets are bigger than Earth “and consequently their true nature — rocky or gaseous — is unknown. On the basis of the observed dimming of starlight from Kepler-186, the authors estimate that this newly discovered planet is roughly the same size as the Earth.”
Quintana told reporters yesterday that observations and theoretical models tell scientists that planets the size of Kepler-186F likely have a composition of ice, rock, and iron, like Earth.
Scientists have warned that just because Kepler-186f might be rocky, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily habitable. Thomas Barclay of NASA’s Kepler mission said that a lot would depend on the atmosphere, if it has one. Currently, scientists don’t have the technology to see what the atmosphere is.
“The star’s size — it’s an M-dwarf star, smaller and less hot than our sun –” could also be a factor in things. Since it’s smaller, the habitable zone is closer, and radiation might not allow for life if the atmosphere isn’t dense enough, according to Victoria Meadows of the University of Washington Virtual Planet Laboratory.
Using data from Kepler, astronomers at the University of Hawaii, and the University of California, Berkeley estimate that there are tens of billions of Earth-size, possibly habitable planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.