Skip to main content

Astronomers spot an Earth-like planet orbiting a sun-like star

Astronomers have located a planet and star which are more similar to Earth and the sun than any pair found before. Located around 3000 light-years away, the star Kepler-160 and its orbiting planet KOI-456.04 are close enough together that there could even be liquid water on the planet’s surface.

The discovery was made by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, investigating a star first observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. Research conducted in 2010 suggested that Kepler-160 could have two exoplanets orbiting around it. Now, the researchers believe that the star in fact hosts three or even four exoplanets, including the Earth-like KOI-456.04.

Related Videos
An artist’s depiction of an Earth-like exoplanet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Most exoplanets discovered thus far are bigger than Earth, at around four times it size or approximately the same size as Neptune, and they typically orbit relatively close to their stars. But occasionally, astronomers spot a potentially rocky planet around the size of the Earth. These are often orbiting red dwarf stars, however, which only give off faint radiation, making the planet uninhabitable.

What makes KOI-456.04 special is not only the fact it is comparably sized to Earth, at less than twice its size, but also that its star is similar to our sun and that it orbits at an almost identical distance as Earth does. This means it could potentially be the right temperature to have liquid water on its surface.

Even if KOI-456.04 were to host liquid water though, don’t plan on moving there just yet. Other factors go into habitability, such as whether the planet has an atmosphere, which can have a profound effect on its surface temperatures. However, the potential for the planet is still impressive.

“The surface conditions on KOI-456.04 could be similar to those known on Earth, provided its atmosphere is not too massive and non-Earth-like,” the MPS wrote in a statement. “The amount of light received from its host star is about 93% of the sunlight received on Earth. If KOI-456.04 has a mostly inert atmosphere with a mild Earth-like greenhouse effect, then its surface temperature would be +5 degrees Celsius on average, which is about ten degrees lower than the Earth’s mean global temperature.”

Editors' Recommendations

A small, fuzzy dwarf galaxy in our neighborhood captured by Hubble
UGCA 307 hangs against an irregular backdrop of distant galaxies in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The small galaxy consists of a diffuse band of stars containing red bubbles of gas that mark regions of recent star formation, and lies roughly 26 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Corvus. Appearing as just a small patch of stars, UGCA 307 is a diminutive dwarf galaxy without a defined structure — resembling nothing more than a hazy patch of passing cloud.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a galaxy in our backyard, cosmically speaking, taken as part of a project to image nearby galaxies. Galaxy UGCA 307 is located 26 million light-years away in the constellation of Corvus, or The Crow, a small constellation visible from the southern hemisphere which was documented as far back as 1,000 years BCE.

There is just a small cluster of stars within this galaxy, as it is a type called a dwarf galaxy. These are defined as galaxies with just a few billion stars, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the hundreds of billions of stars that are found in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Read more
NASA picks a commercial partner to visit the far side of the moon
Rendering of Firefly’s Blue Ghost lunar lander delivering NASA’s LuSEE-Night radio telescope to the far side of the Moon.

NASA has big plans for the moon. From sending the first crewed mission to land on its surface in 50 years to setting up a space station in orbit, the agency has multiple missions planned for exploring our planet's satellite. These include partnerships with a number of private companies as well as NASA-developed projects, such as under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program which will contract out the transportation of small payloads to the moon.

This week, NASA announced it has selected the company Firefly Aerospace to develop a commercial lander for the far side of the moon. The lander, called Blue Ghost, will be used to deliver several NASA payloads to the moon, including a radio observation mission which is placed on the far side of the moon to minimize the radio noise coming from Earth. This natural radio quiet zone will let the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night) telescope detect faint radio waves from an early period of the universe known as the cosmic dark ages.

Read more
How to watch NASA unveil its next-generation spacesuit
An artist's illustration showing astronauts on the moon.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

NASA is about to unveil a prototype of the all-new spacesuit that astronauts will wear when they set foot on the moon in the highly anticipated Artemis III mission, which is currently slated for 2025.

Read more