Have we found Earth 2.0?

Rather than focus on what the next plague or other calamity coming our way in 2020 might be, let’s take some time this afternoon to think about some good news. In the event that Earth winds up becoming uninhabitable from any of the disasters currently being contemplated, we may have found a replacement that we can move to. That’s a tall order, considering all of the qualities that a planet would need to possess to be in “ready to move in” condition. But scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany have been poring over existing data from the Kepler Space Telescope mission using a recently developed algorithm and they have detected a planet that just might fill the bill. How close could it be to our own Earth? Really, really close. (Forbes)

Today the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen is reporting that a project it led has found just that; an Earth-like, probably rocky planet called KOI-456.04 that orbits a star called Kepler-160.

This promising star system is 3,000 light-years from the solar system…

In short, Kepler-160 is an astrophysical portrayal of our own parent star, says the MPS. “The full picture of habitability involves a look at the qualities of the star too”, said Heller.

Let’s start with the good news in terms of the similarities between the two worlds. KOI-456.04 orbits a star that is almost exactly like our sun and it rides in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface. One “year” on that planet is 378 days long, barely longer than our own. It receives a little more than 90% of the same amount of starlight we receive from the sun and its average temperature (if it developed an atmosphere) should only be slightly cooler than ours. If there’s ever going to be a place where life might arise in conditions similar to what we need, this could be one.

Of course, nothing is ever easy or perfect. There are some other factors that would make life on KOI-456.04 (assuming it’s possible) different than our home sweet home.

First of all, the planet is at the low end of what’s considered to be a super-Earth at roughly double our size and mass. At twice the size, according to Live Science, the planet’s gravity would be approximately 1.5 times that of Earth. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d weigh around 225 on the super-Earth. That’s a lot, but it’s not a deal-breaker. You’d adapt to it eventually. And anyone born there in the next generation would grow up experiencing those conditions as normal.

Also, we don’t know for sure that the planet would necessarily have an atmosphere. We only have two examples of rocky worlds in this size range to draw on, those being Earth and Venus. They both developed atmospheres, but they turned out quite differently.

The third problem is, as noted above, the planet is 3,000 light-years away. Even if it turns out to be an exact duplicate to our planet and a perfect home, we have no way of getting there. At least not yet, anyway. We’ll need to get hold of one of the Tic-Tacs first, take it apart, and figure out their gravity drive before we can build a ship to possibly take us there.

And here’s the final fly in the ointment. The scientists who made this discovery aren’t 100% sure that KOI-456.04 is even real. They admit that it could be “a statistical fluke or a systematic measurement error instead of a genuine planet.” But still, they claim they’re 85% sure that it’s real. And if it’s real, it could very well be spectacular, to borrow a line from Seinfeld. Keep your fingers crossed. As I’ve said here repeatedly, the Earth has a finite lifespan as a habitable world even if everything goes our way. We’re going to have to get off this rock sooner or later if our species is to continue. So we’ll need to find more worlds like ours out there and figure out a way to get to them.

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