Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kepler Project Finds Earth-Comparable Planet In Star's Habitable Zone

Via ellroon (again!), we read, spellbound, as NASA informs us of the Kepler mission's first "hit" of exactly the sort everyone hoped it would make... not exactly a new event (almost a year old, in fact), but I just noticed it:
Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth.

"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."

Hot-damn! First we discovered a planet orbiting around another star. Then over the years we found hundreds of planets of different fundamental types orbiting around many stars. Now we're seeing something not too different from Earth, though many particulars are not yet known.

I always knew this day would come; what I didn't know is that the discovery would be made within my lifetime... 

(For interested parties, NASA offers some simple explanations about how Kepler accomplishes the detection of exoplanets. And please view visuals on the linked sites; I can't do them justice here with my self-imposed file size limits.)



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