Scientists have found a potentially habitable* exoplanet that is similar to Earth and orbits* a star similar to our Sun.
The promising discovery was made in a nearby solar system and is said to be the most similar planet-star set-up to our own that’s ever been found.
The exoplanet candidate* is called KOI-456.04 and is still being considered for official planet status.
An exoplanet is just a planet that is found in a different solar system to our own and KOI-465.04 was found 3000 light years away.
In space terms this is fairly close.
Scientists are excited about the discovery because the planet candidate is only 1.9 times bigger than Earth.
This means it could have similar atmospheric conditions*.
Most other exoplanet discoveries find planets that are much bigger than Earth and are similar in size to Neptune.
Rene Heller, the lead author of the new study, said: “It’s the combination of this less-than-double the size of the Earth planet and its solar type host star that make it so special and familiar.”
The fact KOI-465.04 is also a similar distance to its star and that its star is similar to our Sun is promising.
The researchers explained: “Almost all of the Earth-sized planets known to have potentially Earth-like surface temperatures are in orbit around red dwarf stars, which do not emit visible light but infra-red radiation instead.”
This radiation means life is unlikely to survive on the surface.
However, because the Earth-like planet candidate is orbiting a star like the Sun, it could have the right conditions to host life.
SpaceX: The Dragon capsule splashes down in the Atlantic
Previous research has examined this star, called Kepler-160, and found two planets circling it.
The new research, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, has potentially found two more.
Kepler-160 is only 1.1 times the size of the Sun and is thought to have a surface temperature of 5200 degrees Celsius, only 300 degrees less than our star.
This also suggests that the orbiting KOI-456.04 could have similar atmospheric conditions to Earth, such as a mild greenhouse effect.
According to the Max Planck Institute researchers, if the planet candidate does have a similar atmosphere then its average surface temperature is likely about 5 degrees Celsius.
Earth’s average temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius.
To be labelled habitable, a planet must orbit its star at a distance which would support a temperature that can maintain liquid water.
The new discovery was made when researchers re-examined data from the Kepler Space Telescope, which NASA retired in 2018.
If other telescopes can confirm KOI-465.04’s existence then it will join 4000 other known planets outside the Milky Way.
This story was first published on The Sun and is republished here with permission.
WHAT IS AN EXOPLANET?
- An exoplanet is a planet that is located outside of our Solar System and one that is orbiting its own star, like how Earth orbits the Sun
- They are very hard to see with telescopes because they are often hidden by the brightness of their star
- NASA sent the Kepler Space Telescope into orbit with the purpose of finding Earth-sized exoplanets that might support life
- More than 4000 exoplanets have been discovered so far and more missions to find even more exoplanets are planned
- A good way to spot an exoplanet is to look for “wobbly” stars because a disruption to star light can indicate that a planet is orbiting it and therefore blocking out light on occasion
- Exoplanets are very common in the Universe and the more we find that look like Earth the closer we get to knowing if we’re not alone out there
- habitable: able to be lived on
- orbits: moves around
- candidate: something being considered for a position or title
- atmospheric conditions: weather conditions
- What is an exoplanet?
- How much bigger than Earth is the KOI-465.04 exoplanet?
- What is the name of the star/sun that KOI-465.04 orbits?
- What is the name of the NASA telescope that discovered the exoplanet and its sun?
- How many exoplanets have been discovered?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Picture it
Draw a labelled diagram that shows both KOI-456.04 and Earth, and makes it easy to see their similarities. Consider how to present your diagram so that it gives clear information that is easy to understand. At a minimum, your diagram should show a rough size comparison of the two planets and the stars they orbit around, and the temperatures of each.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
Do you think there is life out in the universe, outside of Earth? Do you think it is important for us to know the answer? Write a paragraph to explain your thoughts.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
Scan through the article and see if you can locate three words that you consider to be basic, or low level words we use all the time and that can be replaced by more sophisticated words. Words like “good” and “said” are examples of overused words.
Once you have found them, see if you can up-level them. Think of synonyms you could use instead of these basic words, but make sure they still fit into the context of the article.
Re-read the article with your new words.
Did it make it better?
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think there is life on planets in other solar systems?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.