The most Earth-like world yet detected beyond our solar system has been discovered, scientists say.
With a radius that is just 1.5 times that of Earth, the potential planet is a so-called “super-Earth,” meaning it is just slightly larger than the Earth. The candidate planet orbits a star similar to the sun at a distance that falls within the “habitable zone” — the region where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. Scientists say the planet, if confirmed, could be a prime candidate to host alien life.
"This was very exciting because it’s our fist habitable-zone super Earth around a sun-type star," astronomer Natalie Batalha, a Kepler co-investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said Tuesday (Jan. 8) here at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The find could be the closest so far to an Earth twin beyond the solar system.
"It’s a big deal," astrophysicist Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told SPACE.com. "It’s definitely a good candidate for life." The possible planet is called KOI 172.02 (KOI stands for Kepler Object of Interest, a designation assigned to all planet candidates found by the telescope until they are confirmed as planets). The discovery was announced at the meeting Monday (Jan. 7) by Christopher Burke of the SETI Institute as part of a batch of 461 new planet candidates found by Kepler.