07/24/2015

Closer to Earth, 2.0, and a New Horizons Update

17:20 minutes

This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun. Scientists don't know if Kepler-452b can support life or not. Image by NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun. Scientists don’t know if Kepler-452b can support life or not. Image by NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

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.

Segment Guests

Jon Jenkins

Jon Jenkins is a Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Cathy Olkin

Cathy Olkin is Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy Mission and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Meet the Producer

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.