Astronomy

Astronomers Confirm the Existence of an Earth like Planet



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On Dec. 5, astronomers were elated to find that Kepler, NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft, has found its first Earth-like planet.

Scientists have confirmed the discovery of its first 'Goldilocks' planet on this mission. A 'Goldilocks' zone is an area in outer space where the right conditions exist that could allow for the presence of liquid water, which means potential life. The new planet is said by experts to orbit a star not unlike Earth's sun.  

Space.com reported,"We're getting closer and closer to discovering the so-called 'Goldilocks planet',"Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said during a news conference on Monday.

This 'goldilocks' planet has been dubbed Kepler-22b and was observed orbiting a star around 600 light years away from Earth, the Associated Press reported it would take a space shuttle about 22 million years to get to Kepler-22b.

CNET reported, Bill Borucki, the Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center, told reporters, "It's 2.4 times the size of the Earth, it's in an orbital period (or year) of 290 days, a little bit shorter than the Earth's, it's a little bit closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, 15 percent closer."

Adding, "But the star is a little bit dimmer, it's a little bit lower in temperature, a little bit smaller." Borucki said this means that the temperatures are similar to Earth's, approximately 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Kepler mission launched in March 2009 with the goal of finding Earth-size alien planets. Once a possible candidate is identified, it goes through a process where scientists examine and observe to determine whether or not the planet is a bona fide one. If so, then the planet is upgraded to a "full-fledged" planet.

In addition, NASA researchers announced that another 1,000 new exoplanet candidates have been found, bringing "the Kepler space telescope's total haul to 2,326 potential planets in its first 16 months of operation," reported Space.com.

If these planets pan out as confirmed planets, this would quadruple the number of known planets that exist beyond Earth's solar system, which is currently around 700 planets.

Kepler reportedly has about another year to go in its mission, however the team is hoping to extend beyond that for approximately another year.

About the current planet confirmation, Space.com reported, "This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin," Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. Reportedly, the only hitch is that the planet could be a bit too big for life to exist on the surface.

The CNET report said there are currently 28 confirmed extra-solar planets discovered by Kepler.

This one, however, has scientists excited about the potential for discovery of extra-terrestrial life.

Last year the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii discovered Gliese 581g which was also believed to be in a 'goldilocks zone'.

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