From the AIAA Newsletter:
Kepler Finds Closest Earth Analog So Far
In its final segment for the evening, ABC World News (7/23, story 11, 1:15, Muir) broadcast that NASA announced that the Kepler space telescope discovered an exoplanet known as Kepler 452b, which may be “the closest thing yet to Earth.” Reporter David Wright said that this discovery is “the second big news in a week from NASA,” following last week’s Pluto flyby. Wright notes that although researchers are not certain, the planet, which is larger than Earth, could have liquid water and an atmosphere.
NBC Nightly News (7/23, story 7, 1:50, Holt) broadcast that John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said that the discovery “makes me feel like there is a solar system like ours. There is another Earth out there.” The broadcast also notes that NASA “mesmerized” the public recently with images of Pluto.
The AP (7/24, Dunn) reports that Jon Jenkins of Ames Research Center said that the newly discovered planet, one of 500 added Thursday to Kepler’s catalog, “is the closest thing that we have to another place that somebody else might call home. … Today the Earth is a little less lonely because there’s a new kid on the block.” Grunsfeld added that he wanted to “emphasize” that the telescope could still find even better analogs to Earth. The article notes that Kepler 452b was just the first of 12 potential exoplanets with less than twice the radius of Earth in the new set “confirmed as a true planet, thanks to ground observations.”
According to the New York Times (7/24, Overbye, Subscription Publication), the exoplanet is “right on the edge between being rocky like Earth and being a fluffy gas ball like Neptune.” Jenkins likened Kepler 452b to “an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment. … It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent six 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.”
The Washington Post (7/23, Feltman) highlights the fact that scientists cannot be certain of a lot of the planet’s properties because of the distance and the way the planet was discovered. Meanwhile, Joseph Twicken, lead scientific programmer for the Kepler mission, said, “Continued investigation of the other candidates in this catalog and one final run of the Kepler science pipeline will help us find the smallest and coolest planets. Doing so will allow us to better gauge the prevalence of habitable worlds.”
USA Today (7/23, Watson), like other news coverage, reports that scientists are excited by the discovery even as they caution that little can be certain about the exoplanet’s features. US News & World Report (7/23, Risen) reports that the world “has long been waiting for” this news. Grunsfeld said that while all of these exoplanets are too far to travel to, they “give humanity something to shoot for.”
Also covering the story are the Wall Street Journal (7/24, Hotz, Subscription Publication), Los Angeles Times (7/23, Khan) “Science Now” website, TIME (7/23, Berenson), San Jose (CA) Mercury News (7/24, Krieger), New York Post (7/24, Steinbuch), CNN (7/23, Pearson), Bloomberg News (7/23, Roston), Reuters (7/23, Klotz), AFP (7/24), ABC News (7/23, Newcomb) website, another piece forNPR (7/23) “All Things Considered,” BBC News (7/23, Rincon), Wired (7/23, Zhang), NBC News (7/23, Wagstaff) website, Quartz (7/23, Epstein), and other media sources.
Scientists Do Not Have Concrete Definition For Planet Habitability. USA Today (7/23, Pager) reports that even with yesterday’s announcement, scientists have not settled on a single definition for habitability. Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division, said, “Briefly speaking, it’s a rocky planet at the distance where water can exist on the surface. … What people argue about is how far away from the star or how close to the star might the edges of that habitable zone might be and people think of all sorts of stranger combinations. … Scientists don’t have a crisp definition where they all agree on where the lines are that divide a habitable zone from the rest of the planetary system.”