• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 5s

Kepler space telescope discovers most Earth-like planet yet

By William Harwood / CBS News 3:15 PM April 17, 2014

Scientists analyzing data from the Kepler space telescope have discovered a first: an Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of its parent star, researchers announced Thursday.

The planet is one of five worlds orbiting a dwarf star known as Kepler-186 some 500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus. The other four worlds were discovered earlier in the Kepler data, orbiting close in to the parent star, well outside the so-called “Goldilocks” zone where water can exist as a liquid on the surface.

The newly discovered fifth planet, Kepler 186f, is roughly the same size as Earth and orbits in the star’s sweet spot, at a distance comparable to Mercury’s orbit in Earth’s solar system, taking about 130 days to complete one orbit, or year.

But because Kepler-186 is a cooler star, about half the size of our sun, Kepler-186f is exposed to much more tolerable levels of solar heating even though it is relatively close to its sun.

Scientists do not know whether Kepler-186f is, in fact, habitable, or how it might be affected by solar radiation, flares and the parent star’s gravity. They don’t know whether the planet has an atmosphere at all, and if it does, how it might trap heat or otherwise affect the environment.

But it is the first exoplanet found so far that’s the right size and right distance from its sun to support life as we know it.

“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth,” Elisa Quintana, a research scientist at the SETI Institute, said in a statement. “When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth. Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

Quintana is the lead author of a paper published Thursday in the journal Science that announced the discovery.

“This is the first validated detection of an Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of its parent star, a cool red dwarf,” Douglas Hudgins, exoplanet exploration program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, told reporters. “Second, this discovery establishes that Earth-size planets can and do exist in the habitable zones of other stars.

“Third, red dwarf stars, like the parent (of Kepler-186f) are by far the most abundant stars in our galaxy, making up about 80 percent of the nearest stars to the Earth. Thus, planets such as this one are almost certainly the most common type of habitable planet in our galaxy and may very well represent the closest habitable planets to Earth.”

Kepler, launched in March 2009, is equipped with a 95-megapixel camera that was aimed at a patch of sky the size of an out-stretched hand that contains more than 4.5 million detectable stars. Kepler monitored the light from 160,000 of those suns.

The camera cannot directly “see” exoplanets, but if a planet passes in front of a star as viewed from the space telescope, the star’s light will periodically dim as the planet moves through its orbit. By precisely measuring those tiny fluctuations, Kepler researchers can indirectly confirm a planet’s presence, size and distance from its sun.

Kepler completed its primary three-year mission in November 2012. NASA managers promptly approved a four-year mission extension, but in 2013, the spacecraft was hobbled by the failure of a second gyro stabilizer, preventing the pointing accuracy required for planet detection.

But over the first four years of its mission, Kepler’s observations have allowed researchers to confirm 950 actual exoplanets with another 3,800 “candidate” worlds requiring additional analysis.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Latest Stories

  • Lifestyle

    Emergency preparation: How to be power outage ready

    by Lauren Maxwell on Sep 29, 20:35

    Alaskans are always being reminded to prepare for a disaster, but an emergency doesn’t necessarily have to be an event like a major earthquake. Something as common as a power outage can turn into an emergency if it lasts for hours or even days. Art Nash is an energy expert with UAF. Cooperative Extension Service. […]

  • Crime

    Women sentenced for 2013 Midtown Anchorage murder

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 29, 20:27

    A 30-year-old woman was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the shooting death of her boyfriend. According to the District Attorney’s Office, Bonnie Degenstein was sentenced by Anchorage Superior Court judge Kevin Saxby, Wednesday, for the death of Ryan Tamborino. Earlier this year Degenstein pled guilty to manslaughter. Degenstein called police and told them […]

  • News

    On National Coffee Day, no shortage of stands for Anchorage caffeine lovers

    by Heather Hintze on Sep 29, 19:33

    Whether you’re a skinny, no-sugar, half-caff vanilla latte kind of person or someone who just likes a cup of joe, there’s not shortage of places to get a caffeine fix in Anchorage. “My thing is more the people,” said barista Haylee Bizaillon. “They could have really good coffee as well, but it’s the people that […]

  • News

    Pools, rinks and trails: Mat-Su residents vote on $22 million recreation bond

    by Shannon Ballard on Sep 29, 19:15

    On Tuesday, Mat-Su Borough voters will decide if they are willing to up their taxes in order to help pay for renovations to two area swimming pools, hockey rink improvements, trail systems and more. The smell of chlorine is a public pool staple, but in Wasilla the chemical has been slowly corroding already out of […]

  • Crime

    APD looking for suspect in tanning salon robbery

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 29, 18:49

    The Anchorage Police Department (APD) is looking for a vehicle involved in a tanning salon robbery Thursday evening. According to a release from APD, at 5:46 p.m. police officers were called to Sun Splash Tanning, located at 6700 Jewel Lake Road, in response to a robbery. The female suspect held a handgun as she ordered […]

  • On-Air

    Reality Check w/ John Tracy: You shouldn’t blame Walker for half of a PFD

    by John Tracy on Sep 29, 17:33

    On Friday, we found out that this year’s dividend will be $1,022 instead of $2,052. All because Governor Bill Walker unilaterally cut the dividend in half, keeping nearly $700 million in the earnings reserve. Walker says that money might be needed for future dividends or for state spending after we’ve blown through our savings, which we’re […]

  • Sports

    Lady Gaga will perform during Super Bowl halftime show

    by on Sep 29, 17:22

    NEW YORK (AP) – It’s official: Lady Gaga will headline the Super Bowl halftime show. The NFL and Pepsi announced Thursday that the pop star will take the stage Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Gaga sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl this year in Santa Clara, California. Beyonce, Bruno Mars and […]

  • Politics

    No sanctions for Democrats who backed Stock

    by Associated Press on Sep 29, 14:50

    Updated at 7:47 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29 A group of Alaska Democrats who endorsed independent Margaret Stock for U.S. Senate over the party’s nominee won’t face any sanctions. Alaska Democratic party spokesman Jake Hamburg says the Interior Democrats have the authority to make endorsements. The Interior Democrats, which represent the Fairbanks area and a […]