Today, NASA formally announced the discovery of a new Earth-like planet in our galaxy that could potentially harbour life. Indeed, there could be life on it right now. If your workplace is anything like ours, this will be the topic of conversation for the next few days — which means you're going to need a cheat sheet of Kepler-452b factoids. Here's everything we know so far...
What the hell is Kepler-452b?
Kepler-452b is a planet orbiting the G-class star Kepler-452. It was identified by NASA's Kepler space telescope and publicly announced on 24 July 2015. It is the first near-Earth-size planet discovered orbiting within the "habitable zone" of a star with a similar temperature and mass to our own. Crucially, it is located approximately 93 million miles from its star which would allow liquid water to form on its surface. In other words, the conditions on the planet have a much higher chance of sustaining life as we know it.
It's bigger and older than Earth
Kepler-452b is estimated to be 60% larger than the Earth. The planet and star it's orbiting are approximately 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our Solar System's sun.
It follows a similar orbital length to Earth
According to NASA's math boffins, Kepler-452b orbits its star every 385 days; just twenty days longer than the Earth's. Its sun would look strikingly similar to our own from the surface, although it would likely be hotter. Here’s a chart that shows the orbit of Kepler-452b compared to the Earth's:
Image credit: NASA
It has denser gravity (and more lava)
Because of its larger size, Kepler-452b's surface gravity could be around 1.6 times that of the Earth. This would make it exceptionally difficult for Earthlings to move on the planet's surface. The higher mass and density would also result in thicker clouds and more active volcanoes (assuming the planet is actually rocky, like ours.)
Its sun gives off more energy
As stars age they give off more energy. Because of its older sun, Kepler-452b likely receives about 10% more energy than Earth currently does. This could mean that liquid water is rapidly evaporating from the planet's surface. While this might sound alarming, there's no immediate cause for concern from its speculative inhabitants. As NASA's lead Kepler data analyst Jon Jenkins explains:
"Since [Kepler-452b] is 60% bigger than Earth, it is likely to be approximately five Earth masses, which provides additional protection from the runaway greenhouse effect for another 500 million years,"
It's bloody fay away
Kepler-452 is 1400 light-years away from our own sun. To put that into perspective, it would take NASA's New Horizons spacecraft 25.8 million years to get there while travelling at 58,536 km/h. So don't plan any day trips just yet.
Are there "aliens" on it?
Currently, humanity's astronomical instruments are not powerful enough to answer this burning question. However, the aforementioned habitable-zone "sweet spot" makes it an intriguing possibility. In the words Jon Jenkins:
"It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That's substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”