A planet slightly larger than Earth was discovered on April 18th. Some scientists say that it could contain liquid water which is important as water is a key element for life. The only problem is it’s very far away, in fact it’s so far away that light takes nearly 500 years to get there from Earth. This means that the fastest spacecraft would take 15 million years to get just there, so 30 million to go there and back.
This planet is named after the Kepler space telescope which was the first to snap its picture and 186f refers to the star it orbits. Kepler-186f is at the right distance to keep water liquid, if it were further away the extreme cold could freeze the water and if it were closer the sun’s extreme heat would evaporate the water. Since it’s neither too far or too close (it’s in the area some scientists call the Goldilocks zone) water would be kept as a liquid. When scientists look for planets that can be habited they look for planets with water as a liquid since this allows basic processes to happen (such as transporting material in and out of cells). Even though some scientists say this planet would be suitable for life others are not as sure, Barclay says “Just because it’s in a habitable zone doesn’t mean it’s habitable”.
The Kepler telescope stopped working last year but it’s observations have helped massively in the future of planet-hunting. A mission will launch in 2017 which will search for planets near to Earth, and maybe this time they’ll find a habitable planet closer to home.
This was written by Helena Martinez 3rd ESO Combined Science