A week after NASA’s New Horizons space probe reached Pluto and sent back pictures of the dwarf planet that amazed astronomers, NASA announced a discovery made by the Kepler telescope that has gotten astronomers, and the public, far more excited even.
On Thursday, NASA announced that the Kepler telescope has confirmed that planet Kepler-452b would be habitable for human life.
Kepler-452b is the first small planet discovered in the habitable zone, not too close and not too far from the star that it orbits.
Kepler-452b’s sun is 20% larger and brighter than our own sun, and the planet itself has a radius 60% larger than Earth. The surface is likely very rocky, and the planet’s mass is 5 times that of Earth’s, making its gravity twice as strong. But we’d still be able to walk on the planet once our bodies adjusted.
As John Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, points out, life on Kepler-452b would be tough at first, but after a few generations, humans would adapt to conditions on the planet.
What makes Kepler-452b a “second Earth” is the amount of energy it receives from its sun. That amount is virtually the equivalent of what Earth receives from our own sun.
Jenkins explained the significance:
“If you travel to this star with an arkful of plants, we’d expect based on our understanding of planetary system formations there would be a lot of raw materials for you to use, but more importantly for plants, the sunshine from this star is very similar to the sunshine from our star, so the plants would photosynthesise just like on Earth.”
Photosynthesis means air to breathe and food to eat, and that’s nothing short of huge.
While there’s no reason to believe that life currently exists on the planet, there’s no reason to believe that it didn’t in the past. The planet is 6 billion years in the habitable zone, 2 billion longer than Earth. That’s a lot of years for life to spring up, die off, spring up again, and die off again. We just don’t know.
So are plans being made to colonize Kepler-452b?
Let’s just say, not yet. The planet is 1,400 light years from Earth. So while we have no way to reach it right now, our children’s children just might.