It’s been a good week for NASA. We got our first look at Pluto and now the scientists on the Kepler Project have just announced their discovery of a new Earth like planet found in the habitable zone of a distant star system. The imaginatively names Kepler 452 is a G type yellow dwarf, just like our own, and it is about 1,400 light years from Earth. In other words, we won’t be stopping by anytime soon to drop off a quiche and meet the new neighbors. The planet in question, Kepler 452b, is estimated to be 5 times larger than Earth, which means it would have twice our gravity… So we are thinking planet of the Dwarves?
Interestingly, the size seems to be the main difference between our small blue orb and the world of the distant bearded warrior race that is surely living in their mountain palaces on Kepler 452b. The planet is in an almost near identical orbit as Earth, only about 5 percent further from its host star. That means the length of a Dwarven year on the planet is almost the same as our own, about 386 days. We at The NYRD like to believe they have a longer summer break. Additionally, the amount of energy that the planet receives is only slightly higher than what Earth gets, only about 10% more energy, which might explain why the space Dwarves have to live underground in their mountain homes. They don’t tan well.
What is really awesome about this discovery is that Kepler 452b is older than Earth. It has been circling its star in the habitable zone for about 6 billions years, and that is plenty of time for not just life, but advanced life to form. For right now there is no way to confirm if the planet is actually habitable or not. Remember Mars is also in our sun’s “goldilocks” zone, and it is a rocky barren world, but this is an amazing step forward in exo-planetary science.
All this was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope. Our new favorite floating planet hound was launched in 2009. With sophisticated and very sensitive equipment it measures the light coming from distant stars and makes note of fractional decreases in that light as a world orbits in front of that star. Finding possible Earth-like planets is the trickiest as their size and relatively close orbits make them the hardest to observe. It then uses a very complicated set of computers and computations -which we of course understand but feel it best not to go into right now- to determine the size and distance of the planet to the star. By measuring both the mass and size of any planet, NASA can then try to calculate its density and from that try to estimate what it is made out of, of rock, water, or gas. Scientists have a pretty good feeling that Kepler 452b is rocky.
NASA also announced 11 more Earth-like candidates that have yet to be confirmed. So far the number of confirmed exo-planets is 1,030. There are still a lot more worlds to map and a lot more questions to be answered. Like will our new Dwarven neighbors be friendly? Could we communicate with them? Are they already dead, annihilated by some sort of dragon-super-weapon of their own making? Is there a also a nearby planet of Elves that they have a grudge with? What is up with the beards, is it biological or simple a hipster fashion?
Then again, maybe the planet is not full or dwarves, but Ewoks, or Tellarites? And most importantly, what should we name Kepler 452? Let us know what you think in the comments below.