Mysterious potentially habitable Earth-like planet found 'hiding in plain sight'

Astronomers have found a potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanet out in the dar reaches of space.

The planet was found by the Kepler space telescope, which was operational between 2009 and 2018. Scientists only found the mysterious planet, known as Kepler-1649c, after combing through the data gathered by the telescope.

Previous searches with a computer algorithm misidentified this planet but only when researchers reviewing Kepler data took a second look at the signature did they recognise it as a planet.

Out of all the exoplanets found by Kepler, this distant world – located 300 light-years from Earth – is most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature.

According to Nasa, the finding was ‘hiding in plain sight’.

Kepler-1649c exists in the so-called ‘habitable zone’ of its parent star. It receives about 75% of the light that Earth gets from our sun and means there’s a possibility that liquid water could exist somewhere on its surface.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said: ‘This intriguing, distant world gives us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be found.

‘The data gathered by missions like Kepler and our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will continue to yield amazing discoveries as the science community refines its abilities to look for promising planets year after year.’

With the possibility of water on the planet’s surface there’s also a chance that alien life may exist there. However, at 300 light years away, it’s unlikely we’ll ever manage to get there.

Still, the discovery of the world means a lot for scientists investigating the prospect of life beyond Earth.

‘Out of all the mislabeled planets we’ve recovered, this one’s particularly exciting – not just because it’s in the habitable zone and Earth-size, but because of how it might interact with this neighbouring planet,’ said Andrew Vanderburg, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and first author on the paper released in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

‘If we hadn’t looked over the algorithm’s work by hand, we would have missed it.’

However, Kepler-1649c is closer to its star – a red dwarf – than we are to the sun so it may suffer from radiation flares that could threaten any potential life.

‘The more data we get, the more signs we see pointing to the notion that potentially habitable and Earth-size exoplanets are common around these kinds of stars,’ said Vanderburg.

‘With red dwarfs almost everywhere around our galaxy, and these small, potentially habitable and rocky planets around them, the chance one of them isn’t too different than our Earth looks a bit brighter.’

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