NASA finds Earth's 'older, bigger cousin'

How Earth may look compared to Kepler-452b (NASA)
How Earth may look compared to Kepler-452b (NASA)

The latest planet discovered by NASA's Kepler telescope is the closest match to Earth found yet.

Kepler-452b is only 60 percent larger than Earth and potentially rocky. Best of all, it orbits in its star's 'Goldilocks zone' – just far enough away that it might support liquid water.

But don't expect a New Horizons-style probe to check it out anytime soon - it's 1400 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.

"This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0," says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Kepler-452b's orbit is only 5 percent longer than Earth's, and orbits 5 percent further from its star, Kepler-452 – which is a bit older, brighter and bigger than our sun, but burns at the same temperature.

"We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth's evolving environment," says Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b.

"It's awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star, longer than Earth. That's substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet."

Even if Kepler-452b turns out not suitable for life, the latest data from the Kepler mission has another 12 possible candidates, nine of which orbit stars similar in size and temperature to ours.

In addition to the 1030 planets outside our solar system discovered so far, Kepler has found another 4696 candidates awaiting confirmation.

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