New Earth-sized planet discovered 300 light-years away could support life

A new, Earth-size exoplanet has been discovered in old data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope — and scientists say this world has the potential to support life. 

The rocky exoplanet, known as Kepler-1649c, is only 1.06 times larger than Earth and is located about 300 light-years away, according to a new study released Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Out of all the exoplanets found by the now-retired Kepler space telescope, Kepler-1649c is the closest to our planet in size and estimated temperature.

The exoplanet orbits a red dwarf star within the so-called “habitable zone,” the area of space around a star in which liquid water could exist on a rocky world.

Researchers initially missed the planet when their computer algorithm misidentified it as a “false positive” while looking for planets in past Kepler space telescope observations. After double-checking the algorithm, scientists realized Kepler-1649c was, in fact, another world.

“Out of all the mislabeled planets we’ve recovered, this one’s particularly exciting,” said Andrew Vanderburg, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and an author on the study.

NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

The red dwarf star that Kepler-1649c orbits is much smaller than our own; the exoplanet only receives about 75% of the amount of light that we get from our sun. It also rotates its star more quickly than Earth does, making its years equivalent to only about 19.5 Earth days.

But Kepler-1649c’s sun may be prone to extreme flare-ups that could affect planets around it, so scientists are still unsure about the planet’s atmosphere and temperature.

Still, NASA is optimistic about the newly discovered planet and said that Kepler-1649c is one of the best matches to Earth found yet. On Friday, NASA will host a Ask Me Anything on Reddit about the discovery of Kepler-1649c from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PT.

This year alone, NASA has been able to identify 41 new exoplanets. In total, NASA has confirmed the existence of more than 4,100 planets outside our solar system in just 27 years of looking.

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