Kepler-186f, the First Earth-size Planet in the Habitable Zone
A newly discovered planet nicknamed “Earth’s cousin” has just been found 490 light-years from Earth.
The planet, called Kepler-186f, is the first Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone of its star. Only about 10 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-186f is the closest planet to Earth in size ever found in the habitable zone of its star. What else do you need to know about the new alien planet discovery?
Here are five things to keep in mind about Kepler-186f:
Kepler-186f is the first Earth-size alien planet found in the habitable zone of its star. That means the planet, which is only slightly larger than Earth, is in the part of its star system where liquid water could exist on the planet`s surface.
Astronomers have found other planets in the habitable zones of their stars, but this is the first time a planet this close in size to Earth has ever been found in the habitable zone of its star.
“This is an historic discovery of the first truly Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone around its star,” University of California, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, who is unaffiliated with the new research, said. “This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock solid. The planet itself may not be [rocky], but I’d bet my house on it. In any case, it’s a gem.”
Scientists discovered the planet in data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
Life could thrive … maybe
Because of Kepler-186’s location in the habitable zone around its star, the planet might be a place where life can thrive. It’s possible that the planet has an atmosphere that can help keep water in liquid form on the surface, a prerequisite for life as it is known on Earth.
Kepler-186f is on the outer edge of the habitable zone, so it is possible that the planet’s water could freeze. Its larger size, however, could mean the planet has a thicker atmosphere, insulating the planet, San Francisco State University astronomer and study co-author Stephen Kane said in a statement.
Although they know the alien world is in its star’s habitable zone, scientists still aren’t sure what the planet’s atmosphere consists of, and they cannot say with certainty that Kepler-186f could support life. The planet is Earth-sized, but it might not be Earth-like.
“Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are,” Kane said in a statement. “We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.”
It is one of five planets in the Kepler-186 star system
Kepler-186f is one of five planets found in the extrasolar system located about 490 light-years from Earth. The newly discovered exoplanet orbits about 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers) from its sun. It takes Kepler-186f about 130 days to orbit its red dwarf star.
The other four planets orbiting the star, however, are not in that “Goldilocks zone.”
“The four companion planets — Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d and Kepler-186e — whiz around their sun every four, seven, 13 and 22 days, respectively, making them too hot for life as we know it,” NASA officials said in a statement. “These four inner planets all measure less than 1.5 times the size of Earth.” [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]