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The Earth's Doppelganger

December 8, 2011

Eva Gusnowski

 Alien. Predator. Alien vs. Predator. These movies haven’t really given us a good outlook on what to expect from “alternative” forms of life. Earth’s newly announced doppelganger makes me wonder if I should be avoiding jungles any time soon.

On December 5, 2011, NASA confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet called Kepler 22b. This new planet is twice the size of Earth, with an orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star. Which also means this new planet isn’t in our solar system. Good thing too, since we’re still mourning the loss of Pluto…how could we be expected to move on so quickly?

 

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There are a number of Earth-like planets in the universe that have been discovered. What makes Kepler 22b so special is where it is in relation to its star: based on the star’s power, the orbit of Kepler 22b makes it the first Earth-like planet confirmed to exist within the “habitable zone.” This zone is the distance between a planet and its cognate star that would theoretically allow liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface, much like Earth. The previous two Earth-like planets that were close to the habitable zone were just on the margins, similar to the placement of Venus and Mars, which are too hot and too cold, respectively, to permit the existence of liquid water on their surfaces. Although the surface structure of Kepler 22b is not yet known (if it is rocky, liquid or gaseous), this is a tremendous step towards the potential for life outside of Earth.

Altogether, this means that Kepler 22b is potentially habitable.

But Kepler 22b is only, oh, a mere 600 light years away. Since 600 light years = 10 trillion kilometers, this planet is literally light years out of our reach. That’s not to say we won’t be trying: radio signals à la Contact are currently being sought from Kepler 22b’s direction by SETI. At the risk of spending 18 hours outside of existence, you’ll all have to stay tuned for future news regarding their discoveries.

The Kepler project, which has been underway for some time, has identified 2326 new potential planets. A total of 48 of these planet candidates are thought to reside within their star’s habitable zone, meaning more exciting news regarding these candidates is sure to come in the future.

Aside from all of the excitement this is sure to generate, all I have to say is “get to the chopper!” In the meantime, I’ve got some tree spikes to sharpen and some mud to make, just in case.

 

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