The diagram compares the planets of our inner solar system to Kepler-186, a five-planet star system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit an M dwarf, a star that is is half the size and mass of the sun.
Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech
The Short of It
At about 490 light years away, using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, astronomers discovered Kepler-186F, the first planet with a radius similar to Earth’s in what is referred to as the “habitable zone.”
The Long of It
(ProbeNote: “Habitable zone” or “Goldilocks zone”—the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet.)
(ProbeNote: Kepler-186F is an exoplanet, meaning it orbits a star other than the sun. It orbits the red dwarf star, Kepler-186.)
Planets previously found in the habitable zone are 40% larger than earth, which makes understanding their make-up more of a challenge, says NASA.
Finding Kepler-186F brings us one step closer to our quest to find other planets like ours. But authors of the report warn that Kepler-186F should be considered a cousin not a twin to Earth.
Elisa Quintana—lead author of the Kepler-186F paper published in the journal Science, and research scientist at the SETI Institute—said, “We know of just one planet where life exists—Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth.”
Kepler-186F orbits its star once every 130 days and receives only a third of the amount of energy that we do from our sun. At its brightest, the star is only as bright as ours an hour before sun down. This places Kepler-186F on the outer edges of a habitable zone.
Thomas Barclay, research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper warned that being in the habitable zone doesn’t mean it is habitable and says that temperatures on the planet depend on its atmosphere.
The other planets in this system are: Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d, and Kepler-186e. These planets orbit their sun every four, seven, 13, and 22 days, respectively, making them too hot for life as we know it.
I watched the movie Interstellar over the weekend in which a former NASA pilot is sent in search of an inhabitable planet because the people on Earth are out of food. This puts into perspective the need we earthlings have to search out other viable planets just in case.
- If we are lucky enough to find another planet such as Earth, would we find life and what kind?
- Kepler-186F is 490 light years away. How are we going to get there?
As far as getting there, to date I’m not sure we have an efficient means of space travel. In Interstellar, they traveled using black holes.
Both questions merit further investigation and will be the subjects of future Monday blog posts. Hope to see you there.
What do you think?
What type of life might we find on Kepler-186F? How will we get there without it taking us millions of years?