LONG BEACH, Calif. — Finding Earth 2.0 is just a matter of time, and the discovery will likely transform the way we think about our place in the cosmos, astronomer Natalie Batalha said Tuesday (Jan. 8).
Batalha is a co-investigator for NASA’s Kepler telescope, a planet-hunting mission that has uncovered 2,740 potential alien worlds in just the few years since its 2009 launch. Though Kepler has found some Earth-size planets, and others in the habitable zones around their stars that could allow them to harbor liquid water, none of them are trueEarth twins. But that’s likely soon to come.
“That is certainly the big picture goal, that is what NASA is aiming to do, to find the next Earth and ultimately to find other life in the galaxy,” Batalha said here at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
However, Kepler itself isn’t ideally equipped to find Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars at roughly the same distance of our world from the sun.
“We wouldn’t probably recognize it if we did see it,” Batalha said. “We wouldn’t know about the atmosphere, we might not even know about the mass. The question Kepler is designed to answer is, ‘what is the fraction of stars in our galaxy that harbor potentially habitable Earth-size planets?’ It’s a statistical mission.”
Nonetheless, Kepler is laying the vital groundwork for future missions to follow-up on to identify not just one, but potentially many planets that strongly resemble our own home in the cosmos, she said.