NASA has announced the discovery of a distant earth-like planet, Kepler-452b.
Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.
While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
That’s all very interesting, but not too surprising. Don’t we expect to find rocky worlds a certain distance from stars with a certain frequency? I think it’s good research that will contribute to understanding how planets form outside our one local example, so the search for exoplanets is good research (unlike, in my opinion, the SETI boondoggle).
But if you’re going to call it “awe-inspiring”, I expect a little bit more than some basic parameters of mass and orbit, and the addition of one more data point. What next? It’s 1400 light years away, so we’re not going to get any probes there in my lifetime, or in the lifetime of my civilization, or even in the period that life exists on planet Earth. The rest of the article sounds like the goal is a catalog of planet sizes and year-lengths and ages. That sounds useful for understanding mechanisms, but is the discovery of one more planet something to be awed by? How does this contribute to our general knowledge of the formation of planetary systems?
I am totally unimpressed by all these articles that gush over exactly how earth-like this distant rock is. That seems to be missing the point completely.