Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NASA discovers planet similar to Earth

NASA researchers have found a planet where water can exist in liquid form. The temperatures and the conditions were claimed to be favourable to life, and the planet is orbiting a star that is quite similar to our sun. It is the first time a planet is discovered outside of our own that could harbour life.

An artist rendering of the newly discovered planet.
According to NASA, the newly discovered exoplanet, which has been given the name Kepler-22b, is found in the so-called habitable zone around a star. This describes the range in which a planet needs to orbit a star for it too be suitable for our forms of life. If it is too far from the star, the planet will be too cold, while if it is too close, the high temperatures would render life impossible. Earth is found right within the habitable area, which is frequently dubbed the Goldilocks zone. It is named after a fairy tale, in which the girl Goldilocks is described as having perfect gold hair.
More research is required to discover the actual composition of the planet, as it is currently unknown whether it is rocky, liquid or even gaseous. If Kepler-22b is to be seen as a substitute for Earth, then it should of course have a solid shape, so life forms can walk around on the surface. Currently, NASA scientists do not know what it consists of, so it could very well be a gas cloud, much like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in our own solar system. In this case, of course, Kepler-22b would suddenly become a lot less interesting.

The planet was found using the Kepler telescope. This one is special, as it is not present on the surface of the Earth, but instead orbits our planet as a satellite. Because it is not obstructed by our atmosphere, we can get much better pictures than with Earth-bound ones. That also leads to the discovery of new planets and stars. So far, we have discovered that there are billions of stars, but planets are harder to detect. The Kepler telescope did manage to discover 28 exoplanets, and there are probably many more to come.
Kepler telescope.
Much more studies are needed to find out whether Kepler-22b is a true equivalent of the Earth, with similar live-giving capabilities. But the discovery of an Earth-like planet is promising. If this one is not capable of harbouring life, then perhaps another one is.

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