Kepler 22-b: NASA confirms another Earth?
One day, a trip to the newly discovered planet Kepler 22-b might replace a winter vacation in Florida.
NASA has found a planet outside our solar system that looks to be an awful lot like Earth--or maybe even better, given that its climate is roughly like a balmy day in Key West.
The planet, Kepler-22b, is the first confirmed planet within the "habitable zone," meaning that liquid water could exist on the surface and support life. It is almost 2.5 times the size of Earth and 600 light years away, so you may want to start saving your frequent flier miles now if you want your great-to-the-29th-power grandchildren to have a shot at vacationing there.
Scientists estimate the temperature on the surface of the planet to be about 72 degrees, according to the Associated Press. Kepler-22b circles a star very similar to our own sun, although it does it in a slightly shorter period, with one Kepler 22-b year lasting about 290 days.
Scientists say it's likely the planet has water and land, but can't yet rule out the possibility that it is an entirely gaseous planet, which would severely limit its potential as an intergalactic vacation destination.
NASA's Kepler mission is all about finding potentially habitable planets by identifying possible candidates in other solar systems that are both roughly Earth-sized and in the "habitable zone" of their solar systems. The mission's most recent data identifies 48 candidate planets, but Kepler 22-b is the first to be confirmed.
"The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods," Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead, said in a news release.
NASA needs more space data, eh? I think I feel a public-private partnership coming on. Someone get Richard Branson and Larry Page on the phone!