It’s kind of a big deal. Here’s why.
1. Astronomers have discovered the first Earth-sized planet in the “habitable zone,” or the distance from a star that a water can pool on the planet’s surface.
Nasa Nasa / Reuters / Reuters
While other Earth-like planets have been found, they’ve all been bigger than Earth, making understanding what they’re made of a bit more challenging to understand.
2. The new planet, Kepler-186f, resides about 500 light-years away from us in the constellation Cygnus (pictured below).
What scientists know: Its year is 130 days and that it gets one-third the heat energy that we do from our sun.
What scientists don’t know (yet): Kepler-186f is likely to be very rocky, but researchers can’t confirm its mass, density, or composition.
3. Wait, rewind. What is Kepler?
NASA / Via youtube.com
4. And what’s an exoplanet?
It’s a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system.
5. The new planet is the outermost of five planets in the system.
NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech / Via nasa.gov
The other four measure less than 50% the size of Earth and orbit 4, 7, 13, and 22 days, making them way too hot to consider inhabitable.
6. Kepler-186f orbits a smaller, cooler star that’s half the size and mass of our sun, meaning it might be more of an Earth cousin than an Earth twin.
To give you an idea of the star’s dimness, the brightness of the red dwarf’s light at high noon is only as bright as our sun looks an hour before sunset.
7. Why is this important?
The discovery is a big step toward finding more planets like ours. Kepler-186f proves Earth-sized planets can form in the habitable zone. And while we won’t be rocketing toward it anytime soon, it might lead to siblings — and potential other life.