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10 Earth 2.0 Facts - WMNews Ep. 38

VO: Chris Masson
Script written by Sean Harris The following facts are literally out of this world. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about Earth 2.0 and its recent discovery.

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10 Earth 2.0 Facts - WMNews Ep. 38

#10: What Is Kepler-452b?
The Cousin

A 2015 headline discovery made by NASA, Kepler-452b is an exoplanet, which is any planet that orbits a star other than our solar system's central point, the Sun. Kepler-452b's a headline-maker, however, because of the remarkable similarities that it shares with the Earth. The planet has gotten scientists so fascinated, it's quickly been branded with an alternative, more memorable moniker - 'Earth 2.0', as well as affectionately becoming known as the Earth's 'older cousin'. Kepler-452b has many positional qualities that make it potentially habitable, and its discovery has therefore given significant fuel to the argument that humankind is not alone in the universe.

#9: How Was Kepler-452b Discovered?
The Kepler Mission

Kepler-452b is but one part of a massive NASA mission, taking in multiple planetary systems, searching for other worlds. Launched on March 7th, 2009, the Kepler space observatory is essentially a telescope propelled into space in order to survey parts of our region of the Milky Way. In just over six years, the Kepler mission has compiled a catalogue of extrasolar or exoplanet candidates, a document that will serve as the foundation for further exploration. An exoplanet is one orbits a star that is not a brown dwarf, a stellar remnant or our Sun. As of July 2015, there are 4,696 exoplanet possibilities, including 452b - with 521 of those having been recorded since January 2015, the last time a Kepler catalogue was released. The mission is especially aimed at identifying those exoplanets that are habitable - although it doesn't aim to prove that other worlds are actually inhabited.

#8: How Does Kepler-452b Compare to Earth?
The Similarities

Upon announcing NASA's latest leap forward in space exploration, former astronaut and lead scientist, John M. Grunsfeld, described Kepler-452b as 'a pretty close cousin of Earth', before saying, 'It's the closest so far'. Atmospherically, it's too soon to establish exactly how similar the planet is to our own, but in terms of its relative position, it's about the most Earth-like entity ever discovered. 452b is around 60% larger than our planet, with a diameter measuring approximately 12 000 miles, and a likely mass of up to five times greater. However, and crucially, the planet orbits around its own star at roughly the same rate as the Earth travels around the Sun. Kepler-452b takes 385 days to complete a full circuit, making a year there only 20 days longer than a year here. The newfound planet exists within what's known as a 'Goldilocks Zone', in which it's possible that liquid water, and subsequently 'life as we know it', can exist on its surface. However, 452b's central star is around 1.5 billion years older than our Sun, which equally enables scientists to glimpse into our own future, and ensures that both worlds remains similar but not identical.

#7: Could Humans Live on Kepler-452b?
The Conditions

Although Kepler-452b is entirely unreachable for the modern day human, scientists have already begun to speculate on whether humankind could survive on the planet in the future. Kepler research scientist Jeff Coughlin summarized the latest developments as 'humankind's first step' toward living elsewhere in space, which he describes as 'a long-term goal but a very exciting one'. Kepler-452b is estimated to have twice the gravitational pull of the Earth, meaning that we'd all weigh double what we do now; additionally, its age and position hints that plant-life could grow, meaning photosynthesis could be possible to produce the air that we breathe. However, no one is conclusively certain on the atmospheric qualities of the new planet, meaning it's difficult to determine whether humanity in its current form could thrive - but NASA data analyst Jon Jenkins believes that we would at least adapt, saying 'humans are built to do this kind of thing'.

#6: Is Kepler-452b Close to Earth?
The Travel

The short answer to our next question is no. Kepler-452b is 14,000 light years away from Earth, and with a single light year measuring at close to six trillion miles, that’s a long, long way. It would take an astronaut travelling in the world's current fastest form of spacecraft about 26 million years to reach the planet. However, as future technologists have their eyes firmly locked on the prospect of interstellar travel, the hope is that such astronomical distances could become manageable two to four generations' from now. Scientists are currently researching alternative methods of propulsion and speed - namely nuclear and beam-powered - in order to reach other stars and planetary systems. Travel to Kepler-452b is impossible now, but, as Jeff Coughlin says, 'it gives humankind something to shoot for'.

#5: When Did Space Exploration Begin?
The History

Space itself might've fascinated thinkers and theorists for centuries, but actual space exploration is not yet 100 years old. The first significant steps were taken during World War II, as Germany developed and tested the V-2 Rocket, which became the first man-made object ever to enter outside of the Earth's atmosphere and into space. From there, Russia become the first nation to successfully instigate a space flight with Sputnik 1 in 1957, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in orbit on April 12th, 1961. After that, the United States made history by becoming the first nation to land a manned mission on another celestial body with 1969's Apollo 11 moon landing. Then, significant attention turned to the Solar System's other planets in the '70s, with surface missions achieved on both Mars and Venus - including extensive data collection staged by Viking 1 on Mars between 1975 and 1982. In recent years, however, and with recently developed technology, scientists can look even further afield, making exoplanetary discoveries aplenty.

#4: Have There Been Other Recent Planetary Discoveries?
The Keplers

As is indicated by its specific classification, 452b is by no means the only Kepler planet to have been discovered. The mission was launched in 2009, and so far the space-travelling telescope has thrown up close to 5000 exoplanet candidates, but has also confirmed several exoplanets as well. Kepler-22b was the first positive, potentially habitable finding of the mission, made in 2011. Kepler-438b is probably the second-most significant, behind 452b. 438b was announced on January 6th, 2015, and was dubbed the most Earth-like exoplanet discovered until that point. Another example existing within the 'habitable zone', 438b is situated around 470 light years away from Earth, but takes just 35.2 days to orbit its star, which is smaller and cooler than our Sun.

#3: Have There Been Other Recent Planetary Discoveries: Part 2?
The Dwarf Planet

Within the current age of space exploration, the discovery of an Earth 2.0 remarkably does not dominate the headlines entirely. On July 14th, 2015, NASA's interplanetary space probe, the New Horizons spacecraft, became the first to fly by the debatable dwarf planet, Pluto. Classification of Pluto as a dwarf or regular planet has long been a topic for discussion, particularly since its reclassification in 2006. However, until recently it remained a major Solar System entity about which very little was known. That changed in mid-July, as images were sent back to Earth, nine and a half years after New Horizons was originally launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 19th, 2006. The closest approach of the spacecraft to Pluto was achieved on July 14th, when it came within 7,750 miles of the surface. The high-resolution images surprised scientists, as - instead of the expected craters - they displayed huge mountains, something that could only be created with water ice, much like what we have on Earth. The discovery of potential water on another planet is especially significant, as it’s a foundation block of life.

#2: Are There Future Plans to Find Other Planets?
The 2017 Mission

The search for further understanding of our Solar System and beyond is set to continue over the coming years, with 2017 outlined as an especially important time. NASA has two major launches scheduled for that year, as an unmanned test flight of the Mars-bound Space Launch System is lined up, plus another mission already being dubbed as 'Kepler 2.0'. Known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which is set to funded by a $200 million grant, will look to build on the Kepler findings, but on a grander scale. The hope is that the mission will be able to cover over 400 times as much sky as anything previously, meaning that many more exoplanets are expected to be found.

#1: Are We Alone in Space?
The Search

It's a question that has fuelled scientific thought for centuries, but it's also a question that humankind has made great strides toward answering within recent decades. In truth, Kepler-452b might not be the only confirmed exoplanet unearthed by this current mission, let alone any endeavors scheduled for the near future. Naturally, the next step after acquiring knowledge of other worlds is to try to ascertain whether other life forms inhabit them, especially with regard to those planets more similar to our own, in which the chances of life appear higher. The search continues, but the direction in which we're headed seems clearer, and the answers seem closer, by the day.

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