This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b. (Photo: NASA)

NASA announces major discovery of Earth-like planet

Scientists say the breakthrough brings us a step closer to finding life on other planets.

NASA's Kepler mission announced Thursday it has discovered a planet and star more similar to the Earth than has ever been found before.

Kepler-452b, a 6 billion-year-old planet located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, is the smallest planet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone – the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet.

“This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

xxxThis artist rendering compares Earth (L) to Kepler-452b (Photo: NASA)

The discovery is certain to be a major topic of conversation come October, when thousands of scientists convene in Israel for one of the year's biggest space conferences. The 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) is organized by the Paris-based International Astronautical Federation. Among the many notable names expected to be present is Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, who announced Wednesday that he would be attending. Scientists are also expected to discuss NASA's New Horizons spacecraft's fly-by of Pluto.

"This dramatic revelation comes within a period of unprecedented discoveries that remind our world just how much remains to be explored and understood," said a representative for the Israeli conference. "It is amidst this period of remarkable accomplishments for the space and astronautical community that we will be hosting the IAC in Jerusalem in October. This promises to be among the most productive and rewarding events for our field in recent memory."

This artist’s conception of a planetary lineup shows habitable-zone planets with similarities to Earth. The Kepler-452b is third from the left. Last in line is Earth itself.This planetary lineup shows habitable-zone planets with similarities to Earth. The Kepler-452b is third from the left. Last in line is Earth itself. (Photo: NASA)

Before today, the planet Kepler-186f was considered the most Earth-like planet to have been discovered. No more than 10 percent larger than Earth, its 130-day orbit carries it around a star that is much cooler than our sun and only half its size. The likelihood for Kepler-186f to host life is low.

However, scientists believe that the planet announced today has the same temperature as Earth. Additionally, its 385-day orbit is only five percent longer than our own.

“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 team that discovered Kepler-452b. "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 FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Science, Space