“An Earth cousin”: Kepler-186f
Named after NASA’s Kepler space telescope, Kepler-186f was discovered 490 light-years away from Earth. This ground breaking discovery marks the latest planet outside our solar system which is similar enough to Earth to potentially support alien life.
This wondrous planet was discovered by the team of scientists working on the Kepler Telescope using the transit method. This method entails measuring the brightness of Kepler-186f’s star and comparing this with the brightness of the star when the planet is moving directly in front of it.
You’d be surprised by how much data can be collected from analysing just light alone!
Drawing comparisons with conditions on Earth; it is believed that the exoplanet- named due to the fact that it orbits a star outside our solar system- could in fact support life.
This is even in spite of the fact its star is dimmer than our sun, and it’s size slightly larger than Earth. The position and distance of its orbit suggest water could still exist in this far-away planet.
This newfound planet is being coined “an Earth cousin” – by Tom Barclay, a Kepler scientist who explains: “One of the things we’ve been looking for is an Earth twin, which is an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. While it’s not an Earth twin, it is perhaps an Earth cousin. It has similar characteristics, but a different parent.”
Working out what the planet is made of, could be the key to researchers being able to discover whether or not Kepler-186f does in fact, support life. There is reason to believe it may be made from rock – like Earth, which would of course be very promising.
Kepler-186f has an orbital period around its star of 130 Earth days, compared to Earth’s 365 days; which is due to the fact that its star is dimmer than our sun. This makes things difficult, because there are concerns that Kepler-186f may in fact be too dim to investigate further from such a great distance.
The James Webb Telescope is expected to be launched into space by NASA in 2018, with the purpose of imaging planets within habitable orbits of stars; this hopefully means we will be able to find out more about this mysterious ‘Earth-cousin’ and get us closer to finding where these sneaky aliens are hiding.