Tampa (CBS TAMPA) — Scientists and NASA researchers are close to announcing that the search for a habitable, Earth-sized planet may be over.
Thomas Barclay, an astronomer with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, has found a planet nearly the size of Earth that is located in a habitable zone of a star in the Milky Way. Writing in separate Twitter posts, the outermost planet has a radius estimated to be 1.1 times as large as Earth’s, tweeted University of Arizona graduate student Nick Ballering.
Until this discovery, research had put the minimum size for a new Earth candidate at 1.4 times the size of Earth – a star called “Kepler-62F,” which orbits 1,200 light years away from the Earth, Gizmodo reports.
The Kepler telescope was unveiled in 2009 specifically to allow scientists to scour the universe and beyond for possible Earth-like matches. For four years, the space telescope monitored the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, recording a measurement every 30 minutes, Universe Today reports.
Although Barclay’s announcement at the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System conference has not been officially published, some details on the prospective Earth-like planet have emerged.
The data was collected by Barclay and others through the Kepler space telescope to locate a five-planet system that is within the habitable zone of a star, Discovery reports. Although unnamed, the host star was identified as “an M1 dwarf,” which is dimmer than the sun but make up nearly 70 percent of all stars in the Milky Way. They are also called “red dwarf” stars, and at least five other planets are thought to be orbiting the dwarf star.
The planet orbits within the “habitable zone” where temperatures allow for liquid water, and where life can exist.
A 2013 study from Kepler data found that one-in-five Sun-like stars in the Milky Way galaxy have Earth-sized planets that have the possibility of hosting life.
There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our Sun, noted planet-hunter Geoff Marcy, adding that 8.8 billion Earth-size planets exist in the Milky Way – but atmospheres and temperatures suitable for life are what researchers are investigating with the find of the new M1 red dwarf star.
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