Cross posted and updating at The Zingularity.
It was inevitable, inasmuch as we all thought it would happen sooner or later, but a chill still ran down my spine when I read what the Kepler planet finder discovered:
But this new orb merits special status — because it’s the first planet to be officially confirmed to exist in the so-called “habitable zone.” It’s an ideal size. It orbits just the right distance from its star. And its star is a lot like our own sun. This means that the planet, called Kepler-22b, is the best bet yet to be a place with a thick atmosphere and a wet landscape.
If this planet had an atmosphere roughly similar to earth’s, the average surface temperature is tentatively estimated to be about 72° F or 22° C. The year is thought to be about 290 earth-days, but it may take two to three of those alien years before we have a decent, all-important, mass estimate. The Bad Astronomer has more, here’s some background on Kepler both man and machine, and the NASA/Kepler news release is here. Be patient, the home page was getting pounded last I checked.
You better believe ground-based observatories, and everything else we have, will be looking closely to learn as much as we can about the new world and its star. The star is 600 light-years away, is said to be very much like our sun, perhaps a tiny bit dimmer, and doesn’t even have a name as far as I know, at least not yet. Speaking of which, both alien planet and its sun could use a better name than Kepler 22B. Any ideas?
See also discussion in Ellinorianne’s diary.