Saturday, April 19, 2014 article on Kepler-186f

NASA announced the discovery of five planets in the Kepler-186 system, 500 light years from Earth.  This diagram compares our Solar System with the Kepler-186 system.
Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech
U-M astronomer part of team that discovered Kepler-186f
This past Thursday, NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, which the agency's press release called "the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the 'habitable zone'--the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet."  The press release emphasized the significance of the find by noting that "the discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun."

University of Michigan astronomer and physicist Fred C. Adams was one of the team of scientists that analyzed the data from the Kepler space telescope.  In a press release, Adams said, "One of the most interesting questions in science is whether life can arise on other planets or, alternatively, if life on this planet is unique. The discovery of planets with Earth-like properties is one important link in the chain required to answer this question. And the discovery of the planet Kepler-186f is an important step toward finding a planet that is like our Earth."

In the team's paper, "An Earth-Sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Cool Star," which was published in the journal Science on Friday, April 18, 2014, reported that Kepler-186f most likely has a diameter eleven percent larger than Earth's.  This makes it smaller than previous rocky planets discovered by Kepler in the habitable zones of their stars, all of which have had diameters more than forty percent larger than Earth's and thus less suitable candidates for life as humans know it.

In the NASA press release, the paper's lead author Elisa V. Quintana elaborated on the significance of the finding, saying, "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. Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward."
Much more at the link, including a video from Geobeats that contains quotes from Quintana and another researcher I quoted in the article.  Here is the YouTube embed of it.

Newly found 'Earth cousin' may support life

In a remarkable new finding, astronomers reviewing Kepler's images say they have discovered the most earth-like planet yet.

Officially called Kepler-186f, the astronomers don't know too much about it including if it has a protective atmosphere, but it orbits in the habitable zone of its star and is a similar size to Earth, which could mean water may very well exist.

They also don't know the mass and composition, but despite all that, the discovery is a very important one as it proves that there could be a slew of other planets in space similar to Earth and potentially suitable for life that have yet to be spotted.
I've already included both of the above in tonight's Overnight News Digest at Daily Kos as this week's feature story.  I'm not above promoting my own work there.

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