It's several times larger than Earth and 600 light years away, but a newly discovered planet, Kepler-22b, is also said to be 72 degrees--and NASA's Kepler mission has named it as a planet that's just enough like the one where humanity currently resides. There it is, pictured above, not an actual photo of the clinically-titled planet, just an artist's mysterious interpretation of a place that could harbor some sort of microbial existence because it's in the "habitable zone" where "liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface."
"If it has a surface, it ought to have a nice temperature," Kepler's lead scientist was quoted as saying by The Washington Post, illustrating how little we still know about the terribly far away planet.
But, as NASA also notes, we've heard this story before. Planets had been touted by scientists as residing in the "Goldilocks Zone" (not too close to get burned, not too far away to get cold) only to have their existence questioned. Things are apparently different this time with Kepler-22b, NASA says:
Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.
Kepler-22b, however, is said to be in the sweet spot for getting enough warmth from its own sun. And, most importantly, the phrase "potentially habitable" was bandied about in the news release touting the discovery. Of course, habitable might just mean some sort of microbes may be found (if anything). As The New York Times deflatingly put it this weekend:
We might dream of green men with big eyes, ants with hive minds, or even cuddly octopuses as an antidote to cosmic loneliness, but what we are most likely to find, a growing number of scientists say, is alien pond slime.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.