It is just possible that astronomers have found another planet in the Milky Way which is similar to earth. Could there be life out there?
As one scientist said around 20 years ago, there are so many stars in the Milky Way – let alone in the universe – that it would be very unlikely indeed if there were NOT other planets with conditions like ours.
The US Kepler Space Telescope first found Kepler 452b in 2009, when scientists identified it as a possible planet for having an alien population. It has a large cluster of objects around it that could have been built by intelligent creatures.
The first extra-terrestrial planet was observed in 1995, since when there has been a total of 1,030 planets confirmed, as scientists asses a further 4,700 “possibles”.
However, Kepler 452b is surrounded by a mass of objects which appear to look as though they could have been constructed by creatures with intelligence.
The thinking goes like this: as a civilization grows it will explore new ways of collecting energy, culminating in harvesting it from its’ star, as indeed has happened on earth. Only in recent years have we begun to access energy directly from our sun through the introduction of solar panels.
The cluster of objects surrounding Kepler 452b just COULD be something like solar panels harvesting energy from its star.
Several members of Kepler’s team of “planet hunters” who are checking out the information on Kepler’s observations of no less than150,000 “interesting objects” noted the cluster of matter around the planet. There were several initial theories, all of which were rejected except one, which was that another star close to the planet could have pulled in a string of comets with which it became surrounded. However, even this was described as almost hypothetical.
Kepler 452b is 60% larger than earth, and has a 385 day orbit which is very close to ours. It is 5% further from its star than we are from our sun, but the star is around six billion years old, which makes it one third older than our sun at only 4.5 billion years old. It is also around the same sort of temperature as our sun.
One of the notable things about Kepler 452b is that it is orbiting in what is described as the habitable zone of its sun. The habitable zone is an area where the temperature and pressure permit conditions that would allow water to accumulate on the surface.
One scientist, Jon Jenkins, of the NASA Ames Research Center, said that we could think of 452b as a somewhat bigger and older cousin of the earth. He said that it is “awe inspiring” to think that it has been circulating its’ star for six billion years, which is enough time for life to have evolved, assuming that all other conditions on the surface of the planet permit it.
Kepler works by looking at the light from far-away places in the universe and noting the changes that take place when a planet moves in front of its star. You would expect a dip in the light that we are receiving, but that does not seem to be the norm for Kepler 452b. The planet is some 1400 light years away from earth, which means that the observations we make actually took place thousands of years ago. When you consider that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second squared, a light year is a very considerable number of miles, and 1,400 of them is a long, long way. However, in terms of the universe it is very little indeed.
In the future it seems that we shall find a huge number of other planets in the Milky Way alone. Just in our little local galaxy, there are estimated to be around 100 billion stars – and there are billions of galaxies. It is also estimated that somewhere between 15% and 25% of stars in the Milky Way could host planets similar to earth, so there is a lot of exploration left to do.