Kepler mission discovers Earth-like planet

By Aakash Jain ’14

NASA’s Kepler program recently announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet.

Named Kepler-22B, the newly found planet is approximately 2.4 times the size of the Earth.

It is the first planet confirmed to orbit in a sun-like star’s habitable zone—the region where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could potentially persist.

The ultimate objective of the Kepler mission is to find terrestrial planets where life could one day exist.

“I think mankind will always explore and will always strive to understand what it does not know,” explained Science Department Chair Mr. Andy Mazzolini. “It is what drives everything from Religion to Science.”

The Kepler project identifies planets by continuously monitoring the brightness of more than 100,000 stars in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyrae.

Dips in brightness are made by planets “transiting” in front of stars. By recording such dips, scientists can measure the size of a potential planet, as well as other relevant data.

In fact, the Kepler satellite’s 0.95-meter diameter telescope is able to detect a drop in brightness of only 1/100 of a percent. According to the Kepler mission’s official website, this is the equivalent of sensing “the drop in brightness of a car’s headlight when a fruit fly moves in front of it.”

“The Kepler project allows mankind to explore the Universe in search of other planets,” Mr. Mazzolini said. “Specifically it allows us to get one step closer to answering the age old question of whether our planet is alone in its ability to nurture life … the discovery of planets that are in the zone brings us one step closer to the hope that there is something else out there.”

Since its inception in 2009, the program has already identified more than 1,000 possibly Earth-like planets.