Science

NASA Discovers A Planet Incredibly Similar To Earth Hidden In Early Kepler Data

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which stopped its activities in 2018 as a result of renting out of fuel, keeps giving even after being retired. Kepler’s exploration of planets beyond the solar system was truly remarkable, and transatlantic scientists are still re-analyzing the observations it made during its epic expeditions. In an announcement made on Wednesday, NASA revealed the discovery of a new Earth-like exoplanet. This exoplanet named Kepler-1649c is orbiting in the habitable zone of its star where liquid water can exist.

NASA Second Earth
Image credits – NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

The exoplanet was previously misidentified when searched using a computer algorithm. However, NASA scientists combing through Kepler data gave it a second look, confirming its identity as a planet. Kepler-1649c is located at a distance of 300 light-years from Earth. Its estimated temperature and size mostly resemble Earth out of thousands of exoplanets discovered by Kepler.

The size of this astonishing new world is just 1.06 times higher than that of Earth. Its host star provides it with 75% of the light that the sun gives us. This makes it possible to assume that the temperature on Kepler-1649c is similar to that of Earth. However, don’t be too sure that this will be Earth 2.0, because there’s a major problem. Kepler-1649c orbits a red dwarf whose stellar flare-ups may challenge the potential sustainability of life on a planet.

NASA Second Earth
Image credits – NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Regarding this amazing discovery, NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen stated that thanks to this intriguing new world, we can hope for a second Earth. He explained that researchers will continue to clarify the possibilities of finding new promising planets every year. Along with this, information collected by missions such as Kepler and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will keep submitting wonderful findings.

Still, there’s a load of significant information that is yet to be discovered about this striking new planet. Little is known about its atmosphere which can greatly affect its temperature. Also, considerable margins of error can be seen in current calculations of its size.

NASA Second Earth
Image credits – NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Some of the exoplanets that are approximately similar to Earth’s size are  TRAPPIST-1f  and Teegarden c. TRAPPIST-1d and TOI 700d are estimated to possess temperatures that are similar to that of Earth.

In April, a paper was published by the international research team that discovered Kepler-1649c, in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Andrew Vanderburg, the first author of this paper, stated that Kepler-1649c’s discovery is especially exciting among all the mislabeled recovered planets. The reason for this is neither its size nor the location, but its possible interaction with this neighboring planet.

A year on Kepler-1649c is equivalent to just 19.5 Earth days. This means that it orbits its red dwarf star at a close distance. Since red dwarf stars are commonly found in the galaxy, planets like Kepler-1649c might be common than we previously expected. Although we can’t be sure that a second Earth lies among Kepler’s exoplanets, the discovery of Kepler-1649c surely makes us hopeful of life beyond our solar system.

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