NASA scientists have discovered an earthlike planet about 500 lightyears away in the Cygnus constellation and they've named it Kepler-186f.
A lightyear is equivalent to nearly 6 trillion miles.
The rocky planet, which was first revealed by NASA on Thursday, is about 10 percent larger than the Earth and is situated in what is known as the Goldilocks zone — a habitable region due to its distance from a star or the sun, which can support liquid water on the surface.
The earthlike planet was detected by NASA's orbiting Kepler telescope, which studies the heavens for subtle changes in brightness that indicate an orbiting planet is crossing in front of a star, The Associated Press reported
. Though the announcement came Thursday, the observations were actually made last year by the Kepler telescope, which has since been crippled by a mechanical failure.
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"This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star," Elisa Quintana of NASA's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute said at a news conference on Thursday. "Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope."
"This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock solid," Geoff Marcy, an astronomer from the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email to the AP.
According to Marcy, the planet’s temperature is most likely cooler than that of Earth's, being consistently "similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day," while having an orange to red glow coming from its star, which is smaller and dimmer than our sun. Whereas the Earth revolves around the sun in 365 days, Kepler-186f completes an orbit around its star every 130 days.
Though NASA scientists have yet to confirm surface water exists in liquid form on the planet, the temperature conditions are said to allow for the existence of lakes, rivers, or oceans without the water freezing solid or boiling away.
As similar as Kepler-186f is to the Earth, scientists have yet to confirm if it has an atmosphere. If an atmosphere does exist however, they warn it will likely consist of so much carbon dioxide that humans would need a breathing mask to actually live on the planet.
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