When my friend messaged me to let me know that I "shouldn't freak out, but they found another Earth," I, of course, freaked out a little bit (thanks @caricakes). I mean, space is crazy! What's out there?!
Naturally, this meant that I needed to look up and unpack this news of "another Earth" and what that really means--beyond the sensationalist headlines.
So, what is this "other Earth"?
It's what we shall now affectionately call Kepler 452-b. It gets it's name from the system it is part of (the Kepler-542 system, which is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus). NASA released a few statements about Kepler 452-b in the last few days, and everything I'm writing was learned from them!
*The image above is an artist rendering. We do not have any such images of Kepler 452-b at this time!
Why is it being called "another Earth?"
Well, that ones a little trickier. Basically, there is what is considered a "habitable zone" in the area of a star. Our sun is a G-2 class star, and so is the sun of the Kepler-452 system. Our Earth is in the habitable zone of our sun; Kepler-452b is in the habitable zone of its parent sun Kepler-452. The gif above gives a much better depiction of what I'm trying to explain, haha!
Not only that, but it's about 60% bigger than Earth, but it's orbit is only 5% longer at 385 days. What's also interesting is that it is 5% farther from it's sun than we are from ours--which matches up to the orbit time difference.
But, there are some differences: this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That is 1.5 billion years longer than we have spent in our sun's habitable zone.
But, back to similarities, that sun has the same temperature of our sun, whilst being 20% brighter and having a diameter that is 10% larger!
So....do they know anything else? Is there really life there?
The news is slathered with news that "a new planet was discovered that is sure to have life!" And yes, scientists involved in this discovery are very, very hopeful that life may be found there.
Why? Because they are confident that the planet has an atmosphere but they have no idea of its composition. They believe it has cloud cover and active volcanoes. They believe that in the possibly 6 billion extra years it has had over us, life will have developed if possible. And they believe it might be possible!
Now, what kind of life that means is totally up in the air. Who knows, really! But the potential is pretty cool, if you ask me.
They also discovered more than 500 other exoplanet candidates
Well, they plan to use the TESS telescope (launching in 2017) and the James Webb Space Telescope to try to figure out the atmospheric composition of the planet. To compare to Hubble, check the image above. AKA they can get some really, really intense images! Now, the JWST hasn't been completed/created yet, but hopefully it won't get pushed back again (it's supposed to launch in 2018). However, they are considering some alternatives. Either way, as long as the funding comes through, there will be an even bigger, more amazing replacement of Hubble that will help us learn even MORE awesome stuff about space!!
Larger mirror corrects diffraction problems that can happen leading to images farther away and more crisp. Realistically, the mirror doesn't even have to be in one piece! In a few decades, we'll probably be able to even image the exoplanets more fully by having reflecting elements very far apart (in space!) How cool would that be?
Needless to say, the real takeaway here is that there are so many amazing things out there left for us to discover. I can't wait to see what we'll know in 30, 40, or 70 years! (Yes, I'm going to live for a long time, I hope!)
And I'll stop here for today! If I go any farther, I'll start getting into talk of "but why haven't we been found by other life yet if it probably exists," and that becomes a bit of a crisis for me, so I should really, really stop here!