Kepler finds first 'habitable' planet orbiting distant star

Kepler finds first 'habitable' planet orbiting distant star

Summary: It's 600 light years away, twice the size of Earth and has the unassuming name of Kepler-22b. But Nasa says that the planet is the first we've found, apart from our own, that could have liquid water on its surface — in other words, it orbits its star in a habitable zone.

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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It's 600 light years away, twice the size of Earth and has the unassuming name of Kepler-22b. But Nasa says that the planet is the first we've found, apart from our own, that could have liquid water on its surface — in other words, it orbits its star in a habitable zone.

Found by the Kepler project using the Spitzer orbiting telescope in conjunction with ground-based observations, Kepler-22b still has many mysteries. We don't know whether it's rocky like Earth, gaseous like Jupiter or Saturn, or even mostly liquid, but we do know it's the first of more than a thousand candidate exoplanets — those orbiting other stars — that passes the first test for life support.

Kepler-22b

Others have come close: two other small planets orbiting stars cooler and smaller than our sun have been discovered, right on the edge of their systems' habitable zones, rather like Mars and Venus are on the edge of ours. But Kepler-22b's sun is G-type, very similar to our own Sol if slightly smaller and cooler, and the planetary orbital period is 290 days, again in line with our own.

"Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet," said team leader William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center in California, in a news release. "The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season."

After some debate, the Kepler team's first definition of a habitable zone was adjusted and tightened up after the first list of 54 possibles was reported as part of a major project update in February 2011. However, longer observation periods have increased the number of potential Earth-sized planets known by more than 200 percent since then, raising expectations that many more will be categorised as potentially life-supporting.

"The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we're honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable," said Natalie Batalha, deputy science team leader at San Jose State University, in the release. "The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods."

Topic: Emerging Tech

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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5 comments
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  • so based on the current top speed of an "unmanned" spacecraft (157,000 mph) it should only take us 5.1 million earth years to get a craft from here to there...

    Sounds good - go ahead and spend 5 trillion dollars to make it happen!!
    dole2
  • Because that is what you should've taken from this article.......


    smh
    TheJerit
  • Better send some neutrinos then.
    Simon Rockman
  • This is exciting. I've always been a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars and what fascinates me the most, but also disappoints me of those TV shows, is that, inevitably, it will all one day be “real”.
    Venturing to human-habitable planets – called "M-Class" planets on Star Trek – are many moons beyond our existence. Nevertheless, just as we financed our way to find Earth to be round; break the sound barrier; discover microwave and nuclear energy; and land on the moon, we will one day (perhaps 600 years from now) surpass mars and travel many times the speed of light – be damned the cost – and perhaps due to our destruction of Earth?
    We will one day visit Kepler-22b. I'm vastly disappointed that it won't be in my lifetime.
    deullist
  • maybe there was a math error and it is actually much closer ? like on the other side of the other mercury or whatever? it looks eerily similar to nibiru if any of the pictures online are to mean anything.... also how you see all these commercials and movies and stuff with orange to blue/green, orange to white/white, etc.... like the 2-1-2-1-3-4 configuration of planets / sister-star? i know i saw it that config on sesame street and a music video recently.
    spiritwar2012