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NASA discovers most 'Earth-like' planet yet
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NASA discovers most 'Earth-like' planet yet

'Kepler-22b' has right climate to be habitable

  • An artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star.
    NASA/Ames/JPL-CaltechAn artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star.
  • This diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first 'habitable zone' planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission.
    NASA/Ames/JPL-CaltechThis diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first 'habitable zone' planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission.

NASA scientists have identified a new planet they believe to have several similarities to Earth.

Kepler-22b, named for the Kepler planet-hunting telescope it was spotted with, is the first planet to be confirmed beyond our solar system in what the Guardian called the "Goldilocks zone:" not too hot, not too cold, and therefore possibly habitable.

The planet is 2.4 times the size of Earth. It orbits a star similar to the Earth's sun and is believed to have a surface temperature of around 72 degrees, according to NASA.

Astronomers say Kepler-22b's temperate climate makes it possible that it possesses liquid water, CNN reported.

Kepler program scientist Douglas Hudgins described the discovery as "a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin."

NASA still does not know what the planet is made of, however; it could be predominantly rock, gas or liquid. Scientists have "no idea" about the typical composition of planets of this size, Kepler deputy science team lead Natalie Batalha said, since there is no precedent in our own solar system.

Since Kepler-22b is about 600 light years — or 3,600 trillion miles — from Earth, the chances of any earthlings ever making it there are slim.

Kepler uses the "transit method" to detect new planets, MSN said: it monitors stars' brightness and searches for minute dips in light levels when a planet crosses in front of the star.

The $600-million observatory has detected 2,326 planets since it began operating in May 2009. Scientists will extrapolate its findings to estimate how many stars have potentially habitable planets orbiting them, Reuters said.

Its astronomers are currently preparing a bid for more funding to extend their mission, which is due to end in November 2012.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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