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Twins? Not quite. But Nasa has found the most Earth-like planet yet

Pack your bags though, it’s quite a trip.

kepler 3 Kepler-452b is perhaps the most Earth-like planet yet and is 60% larger. Source: Nasa

IT’S NOT QUITE got the most homely name yet, but Nasa has found probably the most Earth-like planet yet.

Not only is Kepler-452b smack bang in the ’Goldilocks zone’, making it the right distance from its star for liquid water to be present on the surface, but its own star is very similar to our own.

Kepler-452b orbits its star every 385 days, not too dissimilar to ourselves. Similarly, its star is a a G2-type star, just like our sun, with nearly the same temperature and mass.

This star is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun. Indeed, plenty of time for life to have developed on Kepler-452b.

But for a planet to be a true ‘Earth-like’ planet, it must also have several other characteristics. It must also have a similar gravity to Earth, and Kepler-452b might just hit that nail on the head too.

kepler Nasa's Kepler mission attempts to find planets in the habitable zone around their sun. Source: Youtube/Nasa

Gravity is largely dependent on size and Nasa say that the Kepler-452b is just 60% larger in diameter than Earth, meaning that it’s considered a super-Earth-size planet.

In fact, it’s the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone.

It was found by Nasa’s Kepler Telescope. Kepler’s mission is to look for distant planets that are just like are our own, leaving scientists back down here to decide if they could support life.

Kepler is particularly looking for planets that are between half the size of ourselves to twice the size, so this latest discovery fits right into that bracket.

kepler 4 This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b. Source: Nasa

While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

Some other planets found in the ’Goldilocks zone’ are made completely of gas.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, a researcher on Nasa’s Kepler team.

It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.

Unfortunately, we won’t be sending out any advance parties to our newest cousin any time soon. The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: NASA.gov Video/YouTube

While Kepler-452b is the exoplanet that’s rightly making all the headlines today, it’s actually just one of 11 exoplanets that Nasa have announced finding today.

Planets outside our own Solar System are known as extra-solar planets, or exoplanets.

John Grunsfeld of Nasa’s Washington HQ notes that today’s discovery comes 20 years after it was first proved that other suns host planets.

“This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0,” he says.

Opinion: We have found Earth’s Cousin outside our solar system … but what does that mean? >

Read: NASA finds ‘bonanza’ of 715 new planets, but how many could support life? >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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