NASA’s Kepler mission has just announced some exciting news! Yes, a new near-Earth-size (NES) planet has been described- it’s name Kepler-452b. What is special about this discovery is that it is the smallest NES planet described so far. Kepler-452b is orbiting the habitable zone of a sun (Kepler-452) much like our own, in terms of size (~10% larger diameter), brightness (~20% brighter) and temperature! The planet itself is about 60% times the size of Earth and has an orbit of 385 days around its sun. While NASA still needs to determine the composition of the planet, previous research suggests that there is a good chance that the planet is indeed rocky. Another interesting aspect- the newly discovered planet is older than earth at 6 billions years. That in itself is exciting as this has allowed ample time for the development of life, especially given that the conditions are so similar to what we have in our own system. Because Kepler-452b occurs in the habitable zone of its sun, this means that water has the potential to pool on the surface of the planet.
We will have to wait and see what we can learn from Earth’s older, bigger cousin as NASA continues to analyse the data!