Kepler telescope discovers first near-Earth-size planet in habitable zone

Kepler telescope discovers first near-Earth-size planet in habitable zone

The Kepler telescope was launched in 2009 with the sole purpose of finding planets in the habitable zone around their parent stars.

The habitable zone is the area around a star that has a temperature range that supports liquid water.

A planet orbiting too close to its parent star would be too hot, while a planet too far from the star would be frozen.

Scientists believe the presence of liquid water would provide the best opportunity to support life of some sort.

To date, the Kepler telescope has discovered 1,030 planets in their habitable zones, according to NASA.

The latest find, Kepler-452b, is the smallest planet discovered so far that is in the habitable zone around a sun-like star.

According to John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, "This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding Earth 2.0."

So how does this planet compare to Earth?

According to NASA, Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger than Earth and orbits its parent star every 385 days, only 5 percent longer than the orbit of Earth.  The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star than Earth is from the Sun.

Kepler-452b is about 1.5 billion years older than the sun, putting it at about 6 billion years old.

While the planet's host star is about the same temperature as the Sun, it is 20 percent brighter and is approximately 10 percent larger in diameter.

The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light years away in the constellation Cygnus, according to NASA.

"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 in Moffet Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. "Its awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That's substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet."

There is an Arizona tie to this discovery.

In order to help confirm the findings, several ground-based observations were taken, some of which were taken at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona. These measurements helped to confirm some of the important details of the Kepler-452 system, such as the brightness and size of the host star and to better understand the size and orbit of the planet.

For more information on the Kepler mission, click here.

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