Considering an age-old question

Is there life on other planets?

No scientific evidence has been found, and it’s possible none will ever be found. This hasn’t stopped human beings from dreaming, imagining and speculating what extraterrestrial life forms could look like.

What scientists have confirmed, however, is that there are planets outside our solar system. Nearly 2,000 exoplanets, which orbit stars other than our sun, have been identified. (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s confirmed planet total is currently at 1,030.)

Among them is a rather intriguing exoplanet, just recently announced. Some people are triumphantly calling it the discovery of a second Earth.

Its current working name is Kepler-452b. According to NASA’s July 23 news release, it has "a diameter 60 percent larger than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet." The planet is only "5 percent farther from its parent star, Kepler-452, than Earth is from the sun," and its year lasts roughly 385 days.

The star that Kepler-452b orbits is "6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter, with a diameter 10 percent larger."

What does all this mean?

Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said Kepler-452b could be considered "an older, bigger cousin to Earth." He believes 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," according to Mr. Jenkins, "should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet."

Moreover, John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said this "exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

Alas, there’s one huge drawback to this incredible discovery.

Kepler-452b is located 1,400 light years away from Earth. To put this in some perspective, the incredibly fast New Horizons spacecraft (which recently captured some extraordinary photos of Pluto) would take approximately 25.8 million years to reach it.

Will we ever find out if Kepler-452b is Earth 2.0? That’s hard to say. For now, we’re still alone in the universe.

Providence Journal