The finding is the best lead yet for scientists who hope to find another planet out there that is perfect for support life -- like Earth.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been powering through a malfunction two years ago to make astonishing discoveries, like that of Kepler-452b, the “alien Earth” that most resembles our own planet in terms of its habitability.
It was last Thursday when NASA scientists announced that they had discovered Kepler-452b, the most Earth-like exoplanet yet found because it circles a star much like our own sun at a distance that makes it relatively tolerable for water-based forms of life, even though the planet is about 60 percent wider, according to a Space.com report.
However, it’s the closest planet scientists have found that might be a host to life outside of our solar system.
The data that led to finding Kepler-452b is actually a couple years old, pulled from data gathered by the space telescope in the first four years of its original planet hunt that ended in 2013.
Kepler’s main mission — which cost $600 million — was to find out how many Earth-like planets there are in our own Milky Way galaxy. Kepler examined 150,000 stars, looking for changes in brightness that would indicate a planet crossing in front of it. Kepler suffered a hiccup when the second of four orientation maintaining reaction wheels stopped working in May 2013, but the mission powered on.
We won’t be able to visit Kepler-452b anytime soon, unfortunately. The planet is 1,400 light years from Earth — meanwhile, we’re still trying to figure out how to get to Mars, which is a tiny fraction of just one light year away.
Could more discoveries of Earth-like planets be forthcoming? Scientists think so, once improvements are made to software and analysis techniques, which could allow more Earth-like planets to be found more quickly.