Most earth-like planet discovered
MOFFET FIELD, Calif. - ReutersThe most Earth-like planet ever discovered is circling a star 600 light years away, a key finding in an ongoing quest to learn if life exists beyond Earth, scientist said on Dec. 5.
The planet, called Kepler-22b, joins a list of more than 500 planets found to orbit stars beyond our solar system. It is the smallest and the best positioned to have liquid water on its surface among the ingredients necessary for life on Earth.
“We are homing in on the true Earth-sized, habitable planets,” said San Jose State University astronomer Natalie Batalha, deputy science team lead for NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope that discovered the star.
The telescope, which was launched three years ago, is staring at about 150,000 stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, looking for faint and periodic dimming as any circling planets pass by, relative to Kepler’s line of sight.
Results will be extrapolated to determine the percentage of stars in the Milky Way galaxy that harbor potentially habitable, Earth-size planets.
This is the first detection of a potentially habitable world orbiting a Sun-like star, scientists reported in findings to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Kepler-22b is 600 light years away. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km).
Planets about the same distance from their parent stars as Earth take roughly a year to complete an orbit. Scientists want to see at least three transits to be able to rule out other explanations for fluctuations in a star’s light, such as small companion stars. Results also are verified by ground and other space telescopes.
Kepler-22b, which is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth, sits squarely in its star’s so-called “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on the surface. Follow-up studies are under way to determine if the planet is solid, like Earth, or more gaseous like Neptune.