NASA announced Tuesday that its Kepler mission has found the first near-Earth-size planet with a sun very similar to our own.
The planet, named Kepler-452b, is the smallest planet discovered to date that is orbiting in a habitable zone similar to Earth. The planet is the appropriate distance from its sun to allow water to pool on its surface and could potentially sustain life.
The planet is 5 percent farther from its sun than Earth. It is larger than Earth and has a 385-day orbit.
Kepler-452, also known as Kepler-452b’s parent star, is estimated to be 1.5 billion years older than our sun but believed to have the same temperature. It is slightly brighter and larger.
The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
“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,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”
Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.
“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog.
“This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publicly available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.