NASA announcement expected to reveal another Earth-like planet

23 Jul 2015

Illustration of Earth-like planet via NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Still celebrating its recent flyby of Pluto, it now appears the space agency is falling over itself with excitement over the expected announcement of the discovery of a new Earth-like planet by the Kepler mission.

The NASA announcement is due to take place in a livestream event at 5pm Irish time and, from NASA’s announcement press release, it appears that it will be somewhat impressive news.

While the meat of the announcement will take place later today, what we do know is that it is related to NASA’s Kepler mission, which was launched back in 2009 with a mission to specifically look for Earth-like planets in distant space.

Given this, it’s largely expected that it will announce the discovery of just that but, quite interestingly, there appears to be incredible build-up to an event like none of the other discoveries of Earth-sized planets, suggesting something scientifically significant has been seen.

“Today, and thousands of discoveries later,” the NASA statement says, “astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years – another Earth.”

Just to put this potential discovery into perspective, we first discovered an exoplanet 20 years ago and, between then and now, the Kepler mission has been able to confirm more than 1,000 planets and more than 3,000 planet candidates spanning a wide range of sizes and orbital distances, including those in the habitable zone.

This isn’t bad going considering the Kepler telescope is actually working at half capacity due to an error that saw two of its four reaction wheels lose function in 2013, but thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking, came up with a new method of operating.

Known as Kepler’s Second Light (K2), the sun’s photons are recruited to act as a third wheel to control the craft, allowing it to continue operations.

You can tune in to see what NASA has to say at 5pm on their own Ustream channel.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic