[dropcap size=small bg_color=”#5e9cd4″]T[/dropcap]wenty years after the first exoplanet was discovered, NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth sized planet in the so called ‘goldilocks zone’ of a star similar to our own Sun.
Since March 2009, Kepler has been searching for exoplanets across the Milky Way galaxy. Kepler-452b is the first confirmed planet to be a similar size to Earth in the habitable zone. Dr Suzanne Aigrain, an Astrophysicist at the University of Oxford said: “I do believe the properties described for Kepler-452b are the most Earth-like I’ve come across for a confirmed planet to date.”
There have also been 11 other ‘small habitable zone candidate planets’ discovered.
At this stage the composition of Kepler-452b is still not known. Though, aged at six billion years old, it is thought that if the planet is rocky it will still be have an active volcanic core. It is estimated that the gravity of the planet would be around double that of Earth, but that it could be possible for humans to adapt to live comfortably.
Kepler-452, the star of the newly confirmed planet, is slightly larger than the Sun, thus making the planet slightly warmer, but well within the parameter to allow plant life to flourish. NASA’s data analyst on the mission, Jon Jenkins said the planet ‘would feel a lot like home.’
Though Kepler-452b has been the first confirmed planet, scientists have been quick to point out that some of Kepler’s other candidate planets could have more in common with Earth. Kepler-452b is 1.6 times the size of Earth, with other candidates such as Kepler-438b being much closer to Earth’s diameter at approximately 1.12 the size.
That said, Kepler-452b should not be understated as a discovery. According to NASA’s John Grunsfield, the exoplanet: ‘is a pretty close cousin of Earth. It’s the closest so far. It’s Earth 2.0.”
Sam Brewer, Online Games Editor