Pluto received a lot of attention this past week as we received all the new data from the New Horizons probe. It won’t be reclassified as a planet, but it is the largest dwarf planet we know, and one it is half of the first binary planet system.
I like Pluto and its moons but I was more interested that NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Telescope has spotted the first roughly Earth-sized world orbiting in the “Goldilocks zone” of another star. The Goldilocks zone is a habitable zone that is, as you might expect, not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life elsewhere in the universe.
That planet, Kepler 452b, is about 1,400 light years from us in the constellation Cygnus. It has a 385-day year, with an orbit just a bit farther away from its star than our Earth is from our star.
It is far too far away to photograph, the data we have has told us a lot about this “New Earth.” For example, it has been the perfect distance from its star for many billions of years, which means it is possible that it hosts life on its surface, or at least could have at some point in its history.
Kepler 452b is also the right temperature to allow liquid water to exist on the surface. Unless there is more we don’t know about “life,” this is essential for supporting it.
No one is planning to head there and start a colony yet. The new planet is slightly larger than Earth, and is estimated to have twice the gravitational pull of our own planet. That doesn’t mean it can’t have life and humans could adpat to that and new generations would evolve that were “stockier” and better suited to the gravity.
Dr Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Kepler 452b receives the same kind of spectrum and intensity of light as we do on Earth. This means plants from our planet could grow there if it were rocky and had an atmosphere. You could even get a healthy tan like here on holiday.”
Kepler 452b is 1,400 lightyears away. A lightyear is the distance that a beam of light can travel in a year. Light travels at over 670 million miles per hour. Light from our Sun takes around eight minutes to reach Earth. A trip to Kepler 452b would take an incredibly long time. Think about that New Horizon probe. It left Earth’s orbit faster than any other spacecraft before it, at around 36,373 mph. If we had a spacecraft carrying humans that could travel at this speed towards Kepler 452b, it would take them around 25.8 million years to get there. That might be a trip that Christopher Nolan could conceive of (see see: Interstellar), but no one will be selling tickets to anything but movies for a trip to 452b for a long while.
But it’s nice to know it’s out there. Now, if we can only get NASA to come up with better names for these celestial observations and discoveries. Gaiia (two i’s) might be a good one to hang on 452b.