A planet with a similar size to Earth, orbiting a distant star some 300 light-years away, and is likely suitable for life, was discovered by astronomers examining data collected by the now-defunct Kepler space telescope.
According to a recent article in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the exoplanet planet named Kepler-1649c is 1.06 times bigger than our home planet and was found to be orbiting a red dwarf star. Red dwarf stars are much smaller in size and have cooler temperatures than our sun.
The astronomers revealed that the exoplanet gets around 75% of the amount of light that Earth receives from the sun. It indicates that the surface temperature of the planet could be like Earth.
The scientists said that the exoplanet is found within the so-called habitable zone of its star. This means that it is located in an area that is just the right distance for liquid water to exist on the surface. Scientists have long suggested that the presence of liquid water on the surface of a planet signifies that it could support life.
Earth-Sized planet from a distant galaxy called Kepler-1649c found by astronomers, and is likely habitable
Researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) investigated 2,681 exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope from 2009 to 2018.
Out of these exoplanets, the study discovered that Kepler-1649c is the most similar in size to and probably has the same temperature as Earth. Astronomers defined exoplanets as planets that are orbiting stars beyond our solar system.
Data from the space telescope revealed that this particular planet is nearer to its parent star than our planet to the sun. The study showed that it could complete an orbit around its star every 19.5 Earth days.
The study explained that radiation flares could batter Kepler-1649c, which could threaten the existence of any possible life. However, there is no indication that flares have occurred during the observation period.
Little known world
Although the findings are promising, astronomers still know very little about the planet and its atmosphere. They pointed out that the distance of Kepler-1649c to its star is similar to the case of Venus in our solar system.
Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said that it intrigues him that distant worlds give us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be discovered.
Nearly missed it
An earlier study using a computer algorithm called Robovetter classified it as a false positive, which is why Kepler-1649c was initially overlooked as a planet. Computers can make mistakes, so researchers in the Kepler False Positive Working Group who analyze all false positives took another look. This led to its new classification as a planet.
Lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg of the University of Texas at Austin explained that of all the mislabeled planets they have discovered, Kepler-1649c is the planet that particularly excites him--not with its similarities to Earth--but its interaction with its neighboring worlds.
The Kepler space telescope was a space telescope launched by NASA in 2009 to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. It was named after astronomer Johannes Kepler.
The planet-hunting space telescope was retired in 2018 after nine years of operation. Although now out of commission, the data collected by the spacecraft could lead to more discoveries in the future.