East Hawaii News

Keck Assists in Discovery of ‘Earth-Sized Planet’

July 23, 2015, 5:03 PM HST
* Updated July 23, 5:05 PM
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A new discover that hits close to home has been confirmed by the W.M. Keck Observatory.

Keck officials say the discovery is of a “near-Earth-size planet in the ‘habitable zone’ around a sun-like star.” The discovery was made by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

This planet is the first of its kind in its resemblance of Earth. Eleven new additional small habitable zone candidate planets were also found by the Kepler.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as the bigger, older cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; about 1.5 billion years longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

Jenkins is the individual who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b.

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According to Keck, data received from the Kepler provided information to the team that there was a planet causing light from its host star to dim as it orbited around it. Ground-based observatories, which included the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins in Arizona, confirmed the findings.

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The Keck I telescope was a major contributor to the confirmation, according to officials, who say the telescope, fitted with a HIRES instrument, was able to confirm the data and precisely determine additional details, including the properties of the star, like temperature, surface gravity, and metallicity.

“These fundamental properties are used to determine the stellar mass and radius, allowing for precise determination of the planet size,” said Howard Isaacson, researcher in the astronomy department at UC Berkeley and mamba of the discovery team. “With the precise stellar parameters from the HIRES spectrum, we can show that the planet radius is closer to the size of the Earth, than say Neptune (~4x Earth’s radius).

“With a radius of 1.6 times the radius of the Earth, the chances of the planet having some sort of rocky surface is predicted to be ~50%. The Keck Observatory spectrum is also used to rule out false positive scenarios. Background stars can confuse the interpretation of the planet hypothesis, and the Keck Observatory spectrum shows that no such background stars are present.”

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The Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to have been discovered orbiting a sun-like star in the habitable zone, according to officials,

Currently, there are a total of 1,030 confirmed planets.

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