About That Earth-Like Exoplanet

It’s about 500 light years away, but Kepler-186f may have provided NASA a little shot in the search for extraterrestrial life arm.  The planet is the first planet the size of Earth that has been found in the habitable zone of its star.  The possibility of life on this planet is much, much higher than of any exoplanet found to date (The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia lists 1784 as of April 17).

While Kepler-186f is on the outside of the habitable zone, and slightly larger than Earth, it could still hold liquid water, an important characteristic for possible life.  Unfortunately, the Kepler telescope can only detect planets of that size indirectly – in this case by a shadow cast by the planet on its star.  Additional evidence will have to wait for other sensors to target the planet (like the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI)).

I expect that NASA will target Kepler-186f and any similar planets found with future exploration efforts.  That should be good enough to keep some money flowing for more launches of space instruments.  But since increased human spaceflight activity by China has not prompted new political support for NASA activity, I don’t think this discovery will do anything to get Congress to stop bickering about the asteroid mission and start agreeing on what to do in space.

It’s still really cool.


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