• 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

  • Sports

    UAA teams take in local honors

    by Dave Goldman on Aug 25, 21:51

    Coming off the success of a season ago, the UAA women’s basketball and volleyball teams were recognized by local lawmakers for their performances on the court. Proclamations were awarded at Alaska Airlines Center Wednesday. Alaska Senator Berta Gardener listed the basketball accomplishment, which were headlined by a trip the national championship game. State representative Andy […]

  • On-Air

    Alaska Fishing Report for Aug. 25, 2016

    by Carlos Faura on Aug 25, 21:28

    Anchorage Silvers are still spotty at Ship Creek, where there are some pinks and chums to catch. Some silvers are being caught at Campbell Creek in the sections open for fishing. Jewell Lake was stocked this week with rainbow trout and they are biting now. Mat-su All the rivers and streams have high water and […]

  • Lifestyle

    UAF opens HAARP to the public

    by Bonney Bowman on Aug 25, 21:03

    A site long rumored to have the power to control the weather and even people’s minds is opening its doors to show the public what really happens. The University of Alaska Fairbanks recently took over the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, from the Air Force. The university decided to open the facility […]

  • News

    Alaska State Fair begins, celebrates 80 years of festivities

    by Lauren Maxwell on Aug 25, 20:50

    It’s a day that many people look forward to all year. Thursday, the Alaska State Fair opened it’s doors for it’s annual run at the fairgrounds in Palmer. Marketing manager Dean Phipps said the fair is celebrating it’s 80th anniversary this year. Phipps said there is something new to look forward to every year, but […]

  • News

    Police, SWAT responding to armed and barricaded person inside Spenard apartment

    by on Aug 25, 20:35

    The Anchorage Police Department and SWAT are responding to a barricaded person in the Spenard area. Few details were immediately available, but in a release from police they wrote that they were called to an apartment complex on the 3900 block of Northwood Drive around 5 p.m. for a disturbance, involving a weapon, between a […]

  • News

    At Goose Creek Prison, a program for second chances

    by Eric Ruble on Aug 25, 20:17

    Terral Wright has been a professional barber for about six months. A customer favorite at AK Fadez in South Anchorage, he prides himself on his attention to detail. “I’m turning this into a career path,” said Wright. His arrival at AK Fadez came after a long journey through the justice system. He was sentenced to […]

  • News

    Wasilla Library moves to new, multimillion-dollar facility

    by Heather Hintze on Aug 25, 19:01

    The Wasilla Public Library is on the move. The Main Street location will be closed for the next month while staff get settled into their new building on Crusey Street. With the help of AAA Moving and Storage they’re packing up all 55,000 books and loading them onto carts in a systematic order. “It’s a […]

  • Weather

    Garden Report: The art of bonsai at the Alaska State Fair

    by Rachael Penton on Aug 25, 17:13

    If you’ve ever been to the Alaska State Fair, then you’ve probably seen the exhibit a time or two. The Cook Inlet Bonsai Study Group has been displaying their bonsai trees at the fair for more than 20 years. Paul Marmora, a long time member of the group, has an extensive collection of his own. […]