For the first time, an Earth-sized planet has been found in the habitable zone of its star. This discovery not only proves the existence of worlds that might be similar to our own, but will undoubtedly shape future investigations of exoplanets that could have terrestrial surface environments.
The new-found body, orbiting the red dwarf star Kepler-186 and designated Kepler-186f, is the fifth — and outermost — world to be discovered in this system. The results are described in an article appearing in Science.
“This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” says lead author Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute at NASA Ames Research Center. “Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope. The star is a main-sequence M-dwarf, a very common type. More than 70 percent of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy are M-dwarfs.”
An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range from cosmic near neighbours to objects seen in the early years of the Universe. The 14-hour exposure shows objects around a billion times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye.
San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane and an international team of researchers have announced the discovery of a new rocky planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface.
The new planet, dubbed Kepler-186f, was discovered using NASA’s Kepler telescope, launched in March 2009 to search for habitable zone, Earth-sized planets in our corner of the Milky Way Galaxy. A habitable zone planet orbits its star at a distance where any water on the planet’s surface is likely to stay liquid. Since liquid water is critical to life on Earth, many astronomers believe the search for extraterrestrial life should focus on planets where liquid water occurs.
“Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are,” said Kane, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.”
This new image from the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two contrasting galaxies: NGC 1316, and its smaller neighbor NGC 1317. These two are quite close to each other in space, but they have very different histories. The small spiral NGC 1317 has led an uneventful life, but NGC 1316 has engulfed several other galaxies in its violent history and shows the battle scars.
The solar system has a new most-distant member, bringing its outer frontier into focus.
New work from Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory reports the discovery of a distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, which was found beyond the known edge of the solar system. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What’s more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.
Their findings are published March 27 in Nature.