As you may have heard, a great discovery was made by astronomers about a week ago concerning a planet that has very, very similar characteristics to our very own Earth. Kepler-452b is the first planet to meet all three criteria related to earth – it contains a similar size, habitable-zone orbit, and sun-like star. Though the new planet’s radius is 1.6 times the size of ours, and it orbits its star every 385 days compared to our 365 days, Kepler is seemingly just like Earth.
But, unfortunately, figuring out Kepler-452b’s composition is a lot harder to do than determining its physical size. According to an article published by SkyandTelescope.com, “To even begin guessing about a planet’s composition, you have to start with its density, and for that you need its mass. There’s no way to measure mass directly from Kepler data, and the planet is too small and faint for ground-based follow-up,” (Young, Kepler Discovers Earth’s Closest Cousin Yet).
That being said, the team that discovered Kepler does know a lot about its solar system. Astronomers are studying the G-type solar sibling (Kepler’s Sun) that is 1.5 years older than our Sun based on stellar evolution models, and serving as a glimpse into our own solar system’s future. With the help of planetary geologists and atmospheric scientists, we can make an educated hypothesis about the mass and atmosphere of the planet, which is said to be rocky with five times Earth’s mass and twice Earth’s surface gravity. Scientists also predict that Kepler has both active volcanoes and significant cloud cover.
The discovery of Kepler-452b proves to be a huge change in the mission for NASA astronomists, with the help of new, state-of-the-art technological and software improvements. According to SkyandTelescope.com, “It’s the software improvements that enabled researchers to bag new candidates, and an 8th catalog with further improvements is planned for next year. With a fully automated pipeline, the Kepler team can now mimic the decisions that researchers were making manually. That means that all of the planet candidate detections can be re-evaluated using the full dataset, a feat not possible before,” (Young, Kepler Discovers Earth’s Closest Cousin Yet).
The news of Kepler-452b’s discovery is huge in the world of astronomy and marks a turning point for a new age of technology catered to space.