An artist rendering compares Earth (left) to the newly discovered Kepler-452b, which inhabits the “goldilocks zone” where liquid water could be present. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

NASA’s Kepler mission scientists have discovered and confirmed what is being called a “bigger cousin” to Earth some 1,400 light-years away.  The new-found planet, dubbed Kepler-425b, orbits a sun similar to our own, and inhabits the “goldilocks zone” where liquid water could be present. Liquid water could potentially support life as we know it.

Kepler-425b is roughly 60% larger in diameter than Earth, but its annual orbit is only slightly longer in duration at 385 days.  The Earth-cousin is estimated to be 6 billion years old – 1.5 billion years older than our solar system’s 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,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center.  “That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

Hawai’i’s W.M. Keck Observatory atop Maunakea played a part in gathering key measurements to confirm the new-found Kepler.  Other facilities included the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins in Arizona.

The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets by the Kepler mission team to 1,030.