NASA’s Kepler team made a breakthrough this week with the discovery of Kepler 22-b; dubbed “Earth 2.0″. At 2.4 times the size of the Earth, this twin planet is situated 600 light years away from our own, with a year that lasts 209 days. The first planet to be confirmed by NASA as being situated in a habitable zone, Kepler 22-b’s star gives off 25% less light than our own, making the fact that it’s 15% closer less of a problem and giving it a temperature of 22°C. Liquid water is possible at this temperature, but astronomers are still waiting to confirm whether the planet is made up of mainly liquid, gas or rock.
Kepler 22-b is one of the 54 candidate planets reported in February, confirmed by the team after observing three full orbits. Initial observations to deduce whether planets are candidates or not are done with the Kepler telescope, set up to examine a fixed space, in which there are 150,000 stars. The telescope’s high sensitivity allows it to pick up on the dimming of the light from these stars as planets in orbit move in front of them. Candidates are then observed using further aid from other telescopes in orbit before being confirmed as habitable.
Although there is no knowledge of whether there is life or not on Kepler 22-b, this progress means good things for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), as well as narrowing the focus of where to search for life.
Of course, the other reason for the importance of this discovery is the worry at the deterioration of Earth. As the discoveries and confirmations of other habitable planets continue, one can only wonder what effect this will have on the progress the world makes in terms of eco-friendliness.