Earth-Size, Habitable Zone Planet Found
A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star's habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water. Scientists discovered this planet, called Kepler-1649c, when looking through old observations from Kepler, which the agency retired in 2018. While previous searches with a computer algorithm misidentified it, researchers reviewing Kepler data took a second look at the signature and recognized it as a planet. Out of all the exoplanets found by Kepler, this distant world is located 300 light-years from Earth is most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature. This newly revealed world is only 1.06 times larger than our own planet. Also, the amount of starlight it receives from its host star is 75% of the amount of light Earth receives from our Sun meaning the exoplanet's temperature may be similar to our planet’s, as well. But unlike Earth, it orbits a red dwarf. Though none have been observed in this system, this type of star is known for stellar flare-ups that may make a planet's environment challenging for any potential life. There is still much that is unknown about Kepler-1649c, including its atmosphere, which could affect the planet's temperature. Current calculations of the planet's size have significant margins of error, as do all values in astronomy when studying objects so far away. However, astrobiologists will need much more information about this planet in order to gage whether it is promising for life as we know it. Kepler-1649c orbits its small red dwarf star so closely that a year on Kepler-1649c is equivalent to only 19.5 Earth days. The system has another rocky planet of about the same size, but it orbits the star at about half the distance of Kepler-1649c, similar to how Venus orbits our Sun at about half the distance that Earth does. Red dwarf stars are among the most common in the galaxy, meaning planets like this one could be more common than we previously thought.