Looking Up: Don't pack your bags for Kepler-186f just yet
Some may be about ready to pack their bags. NASA has announced the discovery of the most Earth-like planet yet, orbiting another star. Labeled Kepler-186f, this world is actually close in size to the Earth and get this - within the "habitable zone" of the star, where temperatures would allow liquid water to exist!
While scientifically fascinating and sure to encourage the ongoing quest to explore the Milky Way, it will also surely fire a lot of imagination. It can't take long for Kepler-186f to show up in some science fiction movie or novel, or some new space drama on TV!
Then of course we will feel we are way ahead of the astronomers who are trying so hard to investigate the facts and methodically learn bit by bit, about the amazing variety of stellar systems beyond our own.
Since 1995, astronomers have verified the existence of nearly 1,800 planets beyond our own solar system. Ever interesting is the possibility of finding a world similar to our own where life as we know it could exist. We only have our world as an example of a habitable world to compare.
NASA's Kepler spacecraft located planet "f" orbiting the star Kepler 186. The star is in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, otherwise known as the Northern Cross. A red dwarf star, it is approximately 500 light years away.
Note, we have no idea if the planet is habitable; there are many other factors that would influence whether we could enjoy life there in short sleeves or be confined to a spacesuit.
It is 1.11 times the size of Earth and orbits once around in 130 days. Close to the outer edge of the habitable zone, water would still be close to freezing, unless the atmosphere is thick.
Some researchers probe the heavens for extraterrestrial broadcasts. Forget any quick communication. If we did pick up a signal from Kepler-186f, it left the planet 500 years ago. If we sent a reply, it wouldn't get there for another 500 years.
How interesting this announcement came only several days before Earth Day!
Before we be too hasty to quit the Earth and try to be first in line for the spaceship only in our dreams that could take us to this far-out counterpart, remember our own world is a pretty nice place to be. The Earth has been fashioned just right and placed in the solar system with an incredible set of circumstances that make our lives possible and pleasurable.
Among them is the size of the Earth, its inclined axis, its plate tectonics, atmospheric composition and pressure, abundant water, a large moon and big, outer planets to keep most asteroids and comets in check, a shield of radiation, and a single, stable star - the sun, putting out the heat and light so vital to life.
Earth Day gives us good opportunity to be thankful for the world we have. NASA and the astronomical community continues to expand our horizons. In doing so, let us keep appreciation for our own planet, adding to our knowledge and unending list of questions as we peer the Great Beyond.
New moon is on April 29.
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Keep looking up!