Scientists were studying data collected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft when they made a pretty interesting discovery. They found an Earth-sized planet that may potentially be able to support life.
The exoplanet is named Kepler-1649c and it orbits a red dwarf star that’s located approximately 300 light-years away from Earth. What’s so interesting about this exoplanet is that it’s situated in the “habitable zone” as it completes a full orbit around its star every 19.5 Earth days. While that may seem like a really short orbital time to be in the habitable zone, it actually makes a lot of sense since red dwarfs are so dim that their “just-right zone” is fairly close. And Kepler-1649c isn’t alone as it has a neighboring planet called Kepler-1649b but it orbits the star at approximately half the distance so it’s more than likely way too hot to host any type of life.
Red dwarf stars are actually very common as they make up around 70% of the stars in the Milky Way. And since Kepler-1649c is about 1.06 times the size of Earth and receives 75% of the stellar energy influx that we get from our sun, it’s possible that it could contain liquid water on its surface.
In a statement, NASA officials wrote in part, “There are other exoplanets estimated to be closer to Earth in size, such as TRAPPIST-1f and, by some calculations, Teegarden c,” adding, “Others may be closer to Earth in temperature, such as TRAPPIST-1d and TOI 700d. But there is no other exoplanet that is considered to be closer to Earth in both of these values that also lies in the habitable zone of its system,” in reference to Kepler-1649c.
Another interesting fact about Kepler-1649c is that it had been previously thrown out as a false positive. There were actually quite a few false positives when scientists analyzed the Kepler data as additional things, such as other stars in binary systems, can pass in front of one another causing the illusion that a planet was passing in front of its host star. But thankfully they realized that Kepler-1649c was indeed a planet.
A lot more information needs to be found out in order to truly know if Kepler-1649c harbors any type of life. For example, astronomers don’t know anything about the planet’s atmosphere, composition, and air thickness. Andrew Vanderburg, who is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin as well as the lead author of the study (which can be read in full here), explained, “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.” He went on to say, “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.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, who is an associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, weighed in by stating, “This intriguing, distant world gives us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be found.”