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This Earth-size exoplanet exists in habitable zone, was hidden in NASA’s early Kepler data

While reanalysing Kepler data, scientists have discovered a new Earth-size exoplanet Kepler-1649c that revolves around its star in the habitable zone.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Published: April 16, 2020 3:41:48 pm
kepler-1649c, earth-size exoplanet, kepler space telescope, new planet found, earth like planet, kepler 1649c, nasa An illustration of Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. (Image credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter)

A team of scientists has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet 300 light-years away while taking a second look at old observations from NASA’s Kepler space telescope that the agency retired in 2018. The planet, called Kepler-1649c, orbits its star’s habitable zone— the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water.

The computer algorithm misidentified the exoplanet but the researchers reviewing Kepler data recognised the planet that is most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature.

What we know about the Kepler-1649c

As per the information shared by NASA, the Kepler-1649c is only 1.06 times larger than Earth. The light received by this planet from its host star is around 75 per cent of the amount of light Earth receives from our Sun.

kepler-1649c, earth-size exoplanet, kepler space telescope, new planet found, earth like planet, kepler 1649c, nasa A comparison of Earth and Kepler-1649c, an exoplanet only 1.06 times Earth’s radius (Image credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter)

This means that the exoplanet’s temperature may be similar to Earth. However, there is a bit of a problem. Unlike Earth, the Kepler-1649c orbits a red dwarf, which are known for stellar flare-ups that may make a planet’s environment challenging for any potential life.

The exoplanet orbits its small red dwarf star so closely that a year on Kepler-1649c is equivalent to only 19.5 Earth days.

Can it support life?

Since the Kepler-1649c is so far away from us (300 light-years away), the current calculations of the planet’s size have significant margins of error.

To conclude whether the Kepler-1649c can support life, scientists need more information on this newly discovered planet. At the moment, there is still much that is unknown about this exoplanet, including its atmosphere, which could affect the planet’s temperature as we know it, NASA said.

kepler-1649c, earth-size exoplanet, kepler space telescope, new planet found, earth like planet, kepler 1649c, nasa An illustration of what Kepler-1649c could look like from its surface. (Image credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter)

What does it mean for space exploration?

The Kepler-1649c system has another rocky planet of about the same size, but it orbits the star at about half the distance of Kepler-1649c, similar to how Venus orbits our Sun at about half the distance that Earth does, NASA said.

Since red dwarf stars are among the most common in the galaxy, it might mean that planets like the Kepler-1649c could be more common than previously thought.

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“The more data we get, the more signs we see pointing to the notion that potentially habitable and Earth-size exoplanets are common around these kinds of stars,” said Vanderburg, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and first author on the paper released in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“With red dwarfs almost everywhere around our galaxy, and these small, potentially habitable and rocky planets around them, the chance one of them isn’t too different than our Earth looks a bit brighter,” Vanderburg added.

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