Right now, 500 light years away from Earth, there's a planet that looks a lot like our own. It is bathed in dim orangeish light, which at high noon is only as bright as the golden hour before sunset back home.
NASA scientists are calling the planet Kepler-186f, and it's unlike anything they've found. The big news: Kepler-186f is the closest relative to the Earth that researchers have discovered.
It's the first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of another star—the sweet spot between too-hot Mercury-like planets and too-cold Neptunes— and it is likely to give scientists their first real opportunity to seek life elsewhere in the universe. "It's no longer in the realm of science fiction," said Elisa Quintana, a researcher at the SETI Institute.
But if there is indeed life on Kepler-186f, it may not look like what we have here. Given the redder wavelengths of light on the planet, vegetation there would sprout in hues of yellow and orange instead of green.
"It's perhaps more like Earth's cousin than Earth's twin," said Tom Barclay, a NASA researcher who spoke about the finding in conference call with reporters.
For decades, scientists have looked for signs of life by scanning space for patterns that could be the imprints of distant technology or natural clues that demonstrate a living planet.