2:36pm

Mon December 5, 2011
The Two-Way

NASA Says New Planet Is A 'Major Milestone' In Finding 'Earth's Twin'

Scientists at the NASA's Ames Research Center said today that for the first time, they have found a planet that orbits a star a lot like the sun and is smack in the middle of the "habitable zone."

The exoplanet was found using the Kepler telescope, which was launched specifically to look for habitable planets. So far the mission has found more than 1,000 new candidates. But, today as part the Kepler's team's first science conference, NASA announced Kepler-22b, a special exoplanet that if found to be rocky could host life with a comfy temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA reports:

Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

"This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe."

...

Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet's host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

Of course, there are still lots of questions about Kepler-22b, but as The Guardian puts it, the exoplanet "offers [the] best hope yet for a new Earth."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.