NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star, the agency announced Thursday. Kepler-452b is the smallest planet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone, according to NASA. The habitable zone refers to the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet.
In a statement, NASA said that the confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030. “We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the discovery team. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 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.” MORE