Since March of 2009, the Kepler Space Observatory has been exploring our region of the Milky Way so that scientists at NASA can discover more Earth-like planets orbiting stars and estimate how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy actually have such planets. Data from Kepler is analyzed using a supercomputer running algorithms at NASA’s Ames facility.
Now computations from K2, the extended Kepler space telescope mission, indicate the existence of three new Earth-size planets. The one in the CHZ of its star was given the evocative name, EPIC 201367075. The CHZ – or circumstellar habitable zone – is where planets with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water on their surface.
EPIC is relatively close to Earth – only 150 light years away. However unless some convenient wormhole is discovered between us, we’re not likely to get there any time soon. Still, EPIC’s proximity with Earth provides an opportunity for astronomers to study its potential habitability – you know, just in case …..
If this sounds reminiscent of Interstellar, it is.
“Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets,” stated grad student Erik Petigura of UC Berkeley who discovered the planets while analyzing Kepler data.
The exploration of ‘exoplanets’ (those that do not orbit our sun) indicates that some Earth-sized planets may actually be made from the same kind of rock and iron materials that compose the Earth. This means, according to Petigura that “the planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans.”