Kepler Has Spotted Two Of The Most Earth-Like Planets Yet

The amazing Kepler Space Telescope has now catalogued over 1,000 exoplanets. Among them are eight new planets located within habitable zones, including two that astronomers say are the most Earth-like planets yet. Here's what we know about Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b.

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Illustration: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Prior to yesterday's announcement by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysicists, the most Earth-like planets were Kepler-186f and Kepler-62f. Respectively, they are 1.1- and 1.4-times the size of Earth, and receive 32% and 41% as much light.

The two new planets, which may be terrestrial, both orbit red dwarf stars that are smaller and cooler than our Sun. They're both in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, which means they receive enough sunlight such that liquid water can remain stable on the surface — an important prerequisite for life.

Kepler-438b takes 35 days to revolve around its host star and it has a diameter just 12% larger than Earth. There's a 70% chance that it's terrestrial. This exoplanet receives about 40% more light than Earth, and has a 70% chance of being in the habitable zone. For comparison, Venus gets twice as much solar radiation as we do here on Earth. It's located 470 light-years away.

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Kepler-442b features an orbit of 112 days and has a diameter that's about one-third larger than Earth. It has a 60% chance of being rocky. This exoplanet receives about two-thirds as much light as Earth, and has a 97% chance of being in the Goldilocks Zone. It's located 1,100 light-years from Earth.

Unfortunately, the vast distances involved will make it difficult to make more precise observations, but I suspect that over time, and with more sophisticated telescopy, we'll learn more about these promising potentially habitable candidates.

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You can find out more here.

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