Artist's concept of Kepler-452b (NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
The search for another Earth takes a huge step forward after the Kepler space mission discovers 11 new planets in the habitable zone of distant stars, where liquid water might be able to pool on the surface and support life.
The most recent discovery, Kepler-452b, brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030 and is of particular excitement to astronomers as it has similar features to our own planet and is described as our "bigger, older cousin" by Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
The super-Earth-size planet is 60 per cent larger in diameter than ours and, although we are yet to determine its mass and composition, research suggests it has a good chance of being rocky. Its orbit is only five per cent longer than Earth and the same margin further from its sun.
"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,” says Jenkins.
At 1,400 light-years away, it’s unlikely that we will be rubbing shoulders with alien life any time soon, but John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington says: “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."