Get ready to meet the new neighbors. That’s because an earth-sized planet was recently discovered within the “habitable zone.”
Now, to be fair, NASA hasn’t reported any signs of life, but this has to be it, right? Aliens, at last?
After all, it’s in the “habitable zone.” This refers to the distance from a star that a planet would have to be for water to be able to exist at the surface in liquid form.
In other words, that star would serve as this planet’s sun. Like our planet, it would be just close enough that it could support life thanks to sufficient water and heat.
The planet is currently being referred to as Kepler-186f and NASA is celebrating its discovery as a significant step toward investigating life on other planets.
Of course, we can’t get too excited yet. It’s still very early days in terms of this discovery. While we know the size of this new planet, we don’t know anything about its mass and composition. That being said, it seems most likely that Kepler 186f has a rocky surface.
There are other interesting differences, too. For one thing, the planet shares its sun with four companion planets. Its sun is only about half the size and mass of ours. We call these stars M dwarves. They’re the most common version in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Amongst other things, this smaller size means that if you were to visit Kepler 186f, the sun at high-noon would give off about as much light as you’re used to seeing on Earth about an hour before sunset. Kepler 186f’s trip around its sun only takes about 130 days, too.
It’s also located 500 light-years away from us, so if there is life on this new planet, we probably won’t be meeting it any time soon. In fact, getting anywhere near close enough to study its surface would be a massive undertaking.
We have a lot more exploration to do before we’ll know whether or not Kepler 186f could support life or already is. The next step is finding out more about this planet’s atmosphere. Due to their proximity to their sun, we know the companion planets of Kepler 186f are far too hot for anything to be living on them.
Thanks to the Spitzer telescope, we can continue searching for other, similar planets that will help us make these important determinations. However, this current example seems very promising.