NASA Finds Most Earth-Like Planet Yet

It’s only 500 light-years away!

The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
April 17, 2014, 10:41 a.m.

In the con­stel­la­tion Cygnus, which ap­pears to us as a great swan in the sky, about 500 light-years away, there is a star about half the size of our sun. And around that star or­bits a plan­et that has a high prob­ab­il­ity of look­ing like our own. It’s called Kepler-186f, de­pic­ted above in an artist’s ren­der­ing. Today, NASA is an­noun­cing that it is the most Earth-like plan­et it has ever found.

That’s be­cause it’s around the size of the Earth, is likely to be rocky, and, most im­port­ant, it lies in the hab­it­able zone of its star sys­tem. That’s the range of dis­tances from the star in which li­quid wa­ter could ex­ist.

The NASA press re­lease reads:

“Be­ing in the hab­it­able zone does not mean we know this plan­et is hab­it­able. The tem­per­at­ure on the plan­et is strongly de­pend­ent on what kind of at­mo­sphere the plan­et has,” said Thomas Barclay, re­search sci­ent­ist at the Bay Area En­vir­on­ment­al Re­search In­sti­tute at Ames, and coau­thor of the pa­per. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cous­in rather than an Earth-twin. It has many prop­er­ties that re­semble Earth.”

The Kepler plan­et circles a star that is much smal­ler than the sun, as can be seen in the com­par­is­on chart be­low. In the com­ing dec­ades, re­search­ers will be look­ing for a true Earth twin, circ­ling a star the size of the sun. Such plan­ets would be the most likely to har­bor life sim­il­ar to ours. Right now, we just don’t have the tech­no­logy to find such a plan­et. Stars like the sun are just too bright. (Put­ting it crudely, NASA finds new plan­ets by meas­ur­ing the change in light from the star as the plan­et crosses it. Kind of like look­ing for sol­ar ec­lipses, just ones light-years away.)

“It’s like look­ing for a fire­fly next to a search light,” Sara Seager, an MIT as­tro­phys­i­cist, said at a lec­ture at the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ence last month. NASA re­search­ers are cur­rently work­ing on a new tele­scope sys­tem, equipped with what’s called star shade, that will make it easi­er to see Earth-like plan­ets or­bit­ing around bright, sun-like stars. And that’s our best chance of find­ing life in the uni­verse. 

(NASA)

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×