Mislabelled space object found to be Earth-like planet

Date:17 April 2020 Author: Leila Stein Tags:,

A team of scientists have found an Earth-sized exoplanet in reanalysed NASA Kepler space telescope data.

The planet is not just Earth-sized but also Earth-like. It is orbiting its own star, in its habitable zone. This means it is where a rocky planet could support liquid water.

Called Kepler-1649c, the planet was found while scientists were looking through old observations that NASA retired in 2018. 300 light-years away, the planet had been misidentified by a computer algorithm.

A comparison of Earth and Kepler-1649c, an exoplanet only 1.06 times Earth's radius
A comparison of Earth and Kepler-1649c, an exoplanet only 1.06 times Earth’s radius
Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

“This intriguing, distant world gives us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be found,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in a statement. “The data gathered by missions like Kepler and our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will continue to yield amazing discoveries as the science community refines its abilities to look for promising planets year after year.”

While this isn’t the closest exoplanet to Earth, it is the only one that lies in the habitable zone of its system.

The estimated temperature on the planet is similar, at it receives around 75% of the starlight we receive on Earth from our Sun.

However, there is still a lot not known about the recently discovered planet, specifically its atmosphere. Despite its potential as a habitable planet, there are still other factors which could make it dangerous for life.

“Out of all the mislabeled planets we’ve recovered, this one’s particularly exciting – not just because it’s in the habitable zone and Earth-size, but because of how it might interact with this neighbouring planet,” said Andrew Vanderburg, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and first author on the paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “If we hadn’t looked over the algorithm’s work by hand, we would have missed it.”

Image: NASA

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