Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

Posted:

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected - a distant, rocky world that's similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life.

The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

"This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock solid," University of California, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, who had no role in the discovery, said in an email.

The planet was detected by NASA's orbiting Kepler telescope, which studies the heavens for subtle changes in brightness that indicate an orbiting planet is crossing in front of a star. From those changes, scientists can calculate a planet's size and make certain inferences about its makeup.

The newfound object, dubbed Kepler-186f, circles a red dwarf star 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. A light-year is almost 6 trillion miles.

The planet is about 10 percent larger than Earth and may very well have liquid water - a key ingredient for life - on its surface, scientists said. That is because it resides at the outer edge of the habitable temperature zone around its star - the sweet spot where lakes, rivers or oceans can exist without freezing solid or boiling away.

The find "is special because we already know that a planet of this size and in the habitable zone is capable of supporting life as we know it," lead researcher Elisa Quintana of NASA's Ames Research Center said at a news conference.

The discovery was detailed in Friday's issue of the journal Science. It was based on observations that were made before the Kepler telescope was crippled by a mechanical failure last year.

The planet probably basks in an orange-red glow from its star and is most likely cooler than Earth, with an average temperature slightly above freezing, "similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day," Marcy said.

Quintana said she considers the planet to be more of an "Earth cousin" than a twin because it circles a star that is smaller and dimmer than our sun. While Earth revolves around the sun in 365 days, this planet completes an orbit of its star every 130 days.

Scientists cannot say for certain whether it has an atmosphere, but if it does, it probably contains a lot of carbon dioxide, outside experts said.

"Don't take off your breathing mask if you ever land there," said Lisa Kaltenegger, a Harvard and Max Planck Institute astronomer who had no connection to the research.

Despite the differences, "now we can point to a star and know that there really is a planet very similar to the Earth, at least in size and temperature," Harvard scientist David Charbonneau, who was not part of the team, said in an email.

If the planet is habitable, photosynthesis may be possible, said astronomer Victoria Meadows of the University of Washington, Seattle.

"There are Earth plants that would be quite happy with that," she said.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has confirmed 961 planets, but only a few dozen are in the habitable zone. Most are giant gas balls like Jupiter and Saturn, and not ideal places for life. Scientists in recent years have also found planets slightly larger than Earth in the Goldilocks zone called "super Earths," but it is unclear if they are rocky.

The latest discovery is the closest in size to Earth than any other known world in the habitable region.

Astronomers may never know for certain whether Kepler-186f can sustain life. The planet is too far away even for next-generation space telescopes like NASA's James Webb, set for launch in 2018, to study it in detail.

NASA has not yet decided whether to keep using the crippled Kepler telescope on a scaled-back basis. While the instrument may never detect another planet, scientists have a backlog of observations to wade through.


  • NEWSMore>>

  • Persons of Interest Sought in Triple Shooting

    Persons of Interest Sought in Triple Shooting

    Beckley (WVVA) -- Police now say they have persons of interest after a triple shooting in Beckley...More >>
    Beckley (WVVA) -- Police now say they have persons of interest after a triple shooting in Beckley...More >>
  • Richlands man busted growing $350,000 worth of pot

    Richlands man busted growing $350,000 worth of pot

    Tazewell County deputies spent part of their Labor Day holiday arresting a Richlands man on marijuana charges. Officers found 115 Marijuana plants, over a pound of harvested Marijuana, and three firearms inside the home of Roger Lee Sparks Jr., 38, of Richlands. Deputy Andrew Jarvis made the discovery after obtaining a search warrant for Spark's home. Jarvis and other deputies found a room that had been converted to grow Marijuana plants. A street value of the seized drugs is estimated at $35...More >>
    Tazewell County deputies spent part of their Labor Day holiday arresting a Richlands man on marijuana charges. Officers found 115 Marijuana plants, over a pound of harvested Marijuana, and three firearms inside the home of Roger Lee Sparks Jr., 38, of Richlands. Deputy Andrew Jarvis made the discovery after obtaining a search warrant for Spark's home. Jarvis and other deputies found a room that had been converted to grow Marijuana plants. A street value of the seized drugs is estimated at $35...More >>
  • Greenbrier Co. collision injures one person

    Greenbrier Co. collision injures one person

    CHARMCO (WVVA)- Two cars collided on Route 60 in Charmco on Monday, September 1, 2014. According to Trooper Christopher Teubert with WV State Police, the accident happened a little after 3:00P.M. Teubert says a woman was pulling out of the post office when an SUV came around the corner and t-boned her.She was conscious when first responders arrived on scene. The woman was transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center. The driver of the SUV didn't sustain any injuries.More >>
    CHARMCO (WVVA)- Two cars collided on Route 60 in Charmco on Monday, September 1, 2014. According to Trooper Christopher Teubert with WV State Police, the accident happened a little after 3:00P.M. Teubert says a woman was pulling out of the post office when an SUV came around the corner and t-boned her.She was conscious when first responders arrived on scene. The woman was transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center. The driver of the SUV didn't sustain any injuries.More >>
  • Mercer County Fire Fee

    Mercer County Fire Fee

    MERCER COUNTY (WVVA)- Volunteer firefighters throughout Mercer County are asking for the public's help during their time of need.Fire chiefs throughout the county say they are in a financial bind. According to Matoaka Fire Chief, Steven Sommers the fire fee, also the department's budget money, hasn't been increased in nearly 23 years. He goes on to say while that number has stayed the same, "our cost of operating increases every day. We don't have the money to meet those costs."In order to he...More >>
    MERCER COUNTY (WVVA)- Volunteer firefighters throughout Mercer County are asking for the public's help during their time of need.Fire chiefs throughout the county say they are in a financial bind. According to Matoaka Fire Chief, Steven Sommers the fire fee, also the department's budget money, hasn't been increased in nearly 23 years. He goes on to say while that number has stayed the same, "our cost of operating increases every day. We don't have the money to meet those costs."In order to he...More >>
  • TV ads to ramp up in West Virginia

    TV ads to ramp up in West Virginia

    For West Virginians already sick of political slam ads, TV will be even tougher to stomach after their Labor Day barbecues...More >>
    For West Virginians already sick of political slam ads, TV will be even tougher to stomach after their Labor Day barbecues...More >>
  • NC offered $100M for Toyota HQ, twice Texas bid

    NC offered $100M for Toyota HQ, twice Texas bid

    North Carolina business recruiters offered Toyota more than $100 million for the world's largest carmaker to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte rather than a Dallas suburb but still lost out to a Texas offer half that size.Texas and local officials in the Dallas suburb of Plano offered Toyota less than $50 million.Both Toyota and North Carolina Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker agree that the company's decision shows incentive money was just one of many considerations the compan...More >>
    North Carolina business recruiters offered Toyota more than $100 million for the world's largest carmaker to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte rather than a Dallas suburb but still lost out to a Texas offer half that size.Texas and local officials in the Dallas suburb of Plano offered Toyota less than $50 million.Both Toyota and North Carolina Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker agree that the company's decision shows incentive money was just one of many considerations the compan...More >>
  • Glen White man charged with First Degree Murder

    Glen White man charged with First Degree Murder

    Joe Collins, 67 of Glen White, WV is facing a felony murder charge after Raleigh County Sheriff's Deputies say he shot and killed a man. According to the criminal complaint it happened early on Sunday morning.The victim is Larry Totten.More >>
    Joe Collins, 67 of Glen White, WV is facing a felony murder charge after Raleigh County Sheriff's Deputies say he shot and killed a man. According to the criminal complaint it happened early on Sunday morning.The victim is Larry Totten.More >>
  • UPDATE: Three missing Fayette County teens located

    UPDATE: Three missing Fayette County teens located

    The search is over for three missing teens in Fayette County.  Fayette County Sheriff's deputies along with state police and multiple other agencies were searching the area for three young people, who were said to of went missing Sunday.More >>
    The search is over for three missing teens in Fayette County.  Fayette County Sheriff's deputies along with state police and multiple other agencies were searching the area for three young people, who were said to of went missing Sunday.More >>
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WVVA.
All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, Terms of Service and Mobile Privacy Policy & Terms of Service.

Persons with disabilities who need assistance with issues relating to the content of this station's public inspection file should contact Administrative Assistant Audrey Sluss at (304) 324-0659. Questions or concerns relating to the accessibility of the FCC's online public file system should be directed to the FCC at 888-225-5322, at 888-835-5322 (TTY) or at fccinfo@fcc.gov.