Astronomers on Monday reported the discovery of Kepler-22b, the first planet (besides Earth) confirmed to be in a “habitable zone” – meaning that liquid water, which is essential to life as we know it, could exist.
“This is a phenomenal discovery in the course of human history,” Geoff Marcy of University of California, Berkeley, one of the pioneers of planet-hunting outside our solar system, told the NY Daily in an email. “This discovery shows that we Homo sapiens are straining our reach into the universe to find planets that remind us of home. We are almost there.”
Extraterrestrial life is the big hope for what just might be on Kepler-22b, which is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth and circling a star – very similar to our own Sun – about 600 light years away.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which found the new ‘exoplanet,’ is looking at hundreds of bodies, but Kepler-22b is the smallest yet found to orbit in the sweet spot of a solar system like ours. However, it is feared that the planet’s surface may be too large for life to exist on it. It could be more of like Neptune, which a gas-and-liquid planet, except with a rocky core and ocean.
Scientists are now investigating the composition of the Earth-like orb to determine if it is comprised mainly of rock, gas, or liquid.
“Still, this is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. “Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest
questions about our place in the universe.”
Besides Kepler-22b, more than 700 ‘exoplanets’ that have been spotted and verified outside our solar system down the years, but not enough research has been done to confirm if they are truly habitable at this time.