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NASA Finds Kepler-186f, Most 'Earth-Like' Planet Yet Discovered

Apr 18, 2014 03:05 PM EDT | By John Nassivera
NASA, Earth

NASA has confirmed its discovery of the existence of an Earth-like planet that may hold liquid water.

The planet, called Kepler-186f, was found by NASA's Kepler telescope, according to CNET.

The telescope was originally launched in 2009, and was able to capture data on the planet before being damaged recently. Researchers are still analyzing the data.

Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center said at a press conference on Thursday that the discovery is significant and is the "first validated Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star."

Doug Hudgins, NASA's program scientist for the Kepler mission in Washington, said the announcement is a success in the journey of finding planets that not only are similar to Earth in size, but in other qualities as well, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Kepler-186f is the closest in size to Earth out of all the over 1,800 confirmed planets, having a diameter only 10 percent larger than Earth's. Scientists said size is an important factor because if a planet is almost 50 percent wider than Earth and has a lot of mass, its gravity could attract hydrogen helium, which will cause the atmosphere to become gassy and too thick for life from Earth.

NASA said the planet has a shorter year and, depending on its atmosphere, may be slightly colder than Earth, CNET reported.

The planet is located on the outer edge of the habitable zone since it orbits its sun once every 130 days and receives only a third of its star's energy that Earth gets from its sun.

M-dwarf stars such as Kepler-186f have been argued by scientists to not be able to host life because they usually emit more flares and harmful radiation than G-type stars such as Earth's sun, The Lost Angeles Times reported. However, Kepler-186f's location puts it out of the way of such harm, showing the diversity of habitable planets.

The discovery provides the chance for scientists to better understand how many planets like Kepler-186f exist in the universe, CNET reported.

"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step forward finding worlds like our Planet Earth," said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."

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