Closer to Earth, 2.0, and a New Horizons Update
This week, scientists from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting program announced the discovery of a planet just 60 percent larger than Earth, moving in an orbit similar to our own, around a distant star similar to our sun. It’s unknown if the planet could support life, or even if it has a solid surface. But Jon Jenkins, lead data analyst for the Kepler mission, says that the planet Kepler-452b is the closest thing we’ve found so far to a planetary cousin of Earth.
Plus, as data and images from the recent flyby of the Pluto system trickle in from the outer solar system, planetary scientists continue to be amazed by what they’re seeing. They’ve found towering frozen mountains and surprisingly crater-free plains, and have seen pictures of the moon Charon that, in the words of New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, “blew our socks off.” This week, mission scientists unveiled images of a second smaller mountain range near Pluto’s “heart,” also known as Tombaugh Regio.
Jon Jenkins is a Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
Cathy Olkin is Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy Mission and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.