On Thursday, scientists said that NASA’s Kepler space probe had detected a new planet roughly similar in size to Earth.
The newly-identified world orbits a red dwarf star about 500 light-years from Earth. Dubbed Kepler 186f, the world is estimated to be about 10% larger than Earth — around 8,700 miles in diameter. At that size, Kepler 186f is most likely to be composed of rock — unlike the myriad of large Jupiter-like extrasolar gas giants that the NASA probe has detected during its years in space — making it possibly similar to Earth, the New York Times notes.
Astronomers say that Kepler 186f could be a habitable planet because its revolves around its star at just the right distance, meaning its surface may not be too hot or too cold for liquid water to flow. Water is consider a critical condition for the emergence of life. One NASA scientist called Kepler 186f “the first validated, Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star.”
The planet was discovered by analysis of data collected by the Kepler probe, which monitored 150,000 stars. The NASA probe suffered a crippling equipment failure last year, but scientists continue to sift through its data.
However, Kepler 186f’s red dwarf sun is much smaller and cooler than Earth’s star, the Sun. The new world also swings around its star much more quickly — a year on Kepler 186f would last just 130 days. That might mean that its surface is frozen. Another scientist noted that Kepler 186f might be “more of an Earth cousin than an Earth twin.”
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