Kepler-22b, a planet in the Kepler-22 system, has been verified as a planet that has the potential to support complex life, much like Earth. This new revelation makes many of our everyday lives seem small and insignificant in comparison. Though many Chicago attractions can make a vacation fun, little could compare to discovering and possibly visiting a new habitable planet. At 600 light years away, it’s unlikely that humans will be able to travel there at any point in the foreseeable future, but the existence of a planet like this has given many scientists and children alike new dreams of discovering intelligent life on distant planets. The potential that this planet and others like it represents is as vast as the space between our solar systems. As the search for habitable planets continues, Kepler-22b will be a beacon of hope and the beginning of a revolution in space exploration and mankind’s view of the cosmos.
The History of Kepler-22b
The Kepler observatory, named for famed astronomer Johannes Kepler, is a space telescope launched in 2009 in order to find other planets of similar size and composition to Earth in the habitable zone of their stars. If planets meet these criteria it’s possible they may support life. Kepler uses the transit method to scout out planets, looking for small variations in the brightness of stars that happen when planets cross them. Once Kepler finds planet candidates, telescopes on Earth are used to verify, elevating them to planets after about a year.
In its first 13 months of operation, Kepler detected 1,235 candidates, including 54 in the habitable zone and 68 that are close to the size of the Earth. Kepler-22b was discovered by the telescope about two years ago, but it’s taken that time to verify its composition and determine its status as a potentially habitable planet. It’s roughly two times the size of our own planet with an average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit and has an atmosphere that could support life. The planet seems to be almost completely covered in water and, though it can’t be confirmed, could contain marine life. Scientists will continue observing and learning about the planet, hopefully finding new information and learning more about planets of this size, about which little is currently known.
Why We Care
The planet is one of an astronomically small number of planets that potentially resemble Earth and could support life. Though it’s 600 light years away – meaning it’s unlikely that we’ll ever travel to it – it provides us a tantalizing glimpse of what’s out there waiting for us in the universe. Our scientists have a lot they can learn from Kepler-22b, perhaps uncovering further information regarding the requirements a planet must meet in order to support life and whether a planet of that size is a good candidate. The verification of the planet’s Earth-like properties shows that the Kepler telescope works as planned, boosting confidence in its abilities to help us find other habitable planets, including some that are perhaps closer to us. As we keep looking towards the stars, our desire to explore and expand will drive us to new worlds, which we may discover through the Kepler space telescope program.