NASA finds planet that's just about right for life

December 5, 2011 8:05:17 PM PST
NASA announced Monday it has found a new planet outside of Earth's solar system that has all the right ingredients to be Earth-like, so much so, the science team is buzzing about the possibility of life on another planet.

Of all of the scientists on Earth and all the planets in the universe, this is what has people talking -- a now confirmed planet 600 light years away, which NASA calls Kepler-22b.

"This is a planet about 2.4 times the size of Earth so it's bigger, but it's orbiting a star very much like our sun, so it's kind of a sun twin," Natalie Batalha of the Kepler Science Team said.

As they say in real estate, it's all about location, and Kepler-22b orbits its star from a distance similar to Earth in what's called a habitable zone. The science team guesses the planet surface is a comfy 72 degrees.

"This is a big planet, it could have a lot of life, it could be an ocean planet," Kepler principal investigator William Boruck said. "One of the possibilities in fact is that it is a planet made up of water and ice. All ocean."

And there's one more big announcement from the Kepler science team. It has discovered more than a thousand potential planets, or what they call planet candidates. That brings to more than 2,300 the total number of planet candidates the Kepler space telescope has identified.

Famed astronomer Jill Tarter says it's a system ripe for more exploration which is exactly what the Center for SETI Research in Mountain View is doing. The non-profit center has battled back from funding cuts and ironically, on this day of an Earth-like announcement, once again pointed its Allen Telescope Array toward the Kepler system to listen for signs of life.

"So we're asking a perfectly reasonable question of the universe," Tarter said. "Somewhere else did the laws of physics and chemistry lead to sentient beings with technologies that we might discover if we only looked?"

Whether it is a roomful of scientists or one woman, Kepler-22b has given an age-old question new life.

Load Comments