In a press conference yesterday morning, NASA announced the discovery of the Kepler 452-b. It is the latest planet of many potential prospects that displays “Earth-like” characteristics.
Here’s what we know about Kepler 452-b:
•It is 60% larger than Earth and its terrain is mostly rocky.
•It is 5% farther from its parent star than Earth is from the Sun resulting in a 385-day orbit.
•The planet is in the “habitable zone” meaning it’s far enough away from its parent star that its water won’t evaporate, but close enough so that it won’t freeze.
Here’s what we know about its sun:
•Its 6 billion years old which is 1.5 billion years older than the Sun.
•It has the same temperature but is 20% brighter than the Sun’s.
•It also has a diameter that is 10% larger.
•Kepler 452-b is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.
While this is certainly exciting news, the public response seem to suggest that most people misunderstand what this really means. Without diving too far into time dilation and relativity lets get a few things down.
•A light-year is the astronomical distance it takes for light particles to travel in a year’s time.
•Nothing with mass can travel at the speed of light.
COMPUTRON, lets crunch some numbers!
•Light travels 6 trillion miles in a year so…
1 light-year = 6 X 10^12 miles
•Kepler 452-b is 1400 light-years away from Earth or…
1400(6 X 10^12) miles
•Since nothing with mass can ever travel at the speed of light lets assume we are able to travel at 95% of the speed of light.
t = d/v
t = 1400/0.95
t = 1473 light-years
The crew members would arrive at Kepler 452-b in 1473 years relative to Earth. Relative to Earth? What does that mean? Well the elapsed time observed on-board the ship would be less than that on Earth. The passage of on-board time would slow down in a fast moving vehicle traveling in space for complicated reasons regarding relativity and gravity that Computron isn’t willing to explain right now.
Sparing you all the time dilation math; It would take about 460 years traveling at 95% the speed of light for the crew to arrive at Kepler 452-b in time observed and relative to them. This is all assuming that they are able to travel at a speed technology may not even allow us to in the next 100 years and maintain that speed consistently. With current technology, a modern space shuttle has a maximum speed of 17,500 mph relative to Earth.
t = d/v
t = 1400(6 X 10^12)/17500
t = 480,000,000,000 hrs
t = 20,000,000,000 days
t = 54,794,520.5 years
Thank you Computron. So it would basically take millions of years (Earth time) to reach this planet and millions of years back. So why is NASA excited?
Well from the looks of it, this planet may have all the right conditions to sustain life with surface, atmosphere, temperature, and distance to its sun all comparable to our beloved Earth. If this planet exist, surely there must be others closer to our system with similar conditions. The TESS telescope which is set to launch on a two year mission in 2017 will be focusing on planets orbiting in nearby systems.
The importance of a mission like this would belong to mankind. Just because we currently are not capable making a trip to Kepler 452-b doesn’t mean our grandchildren 7 generations down the line won’t be able to. With population growth, global warming, and the depletion of natural resources on the rise, scouting out an Earth 2.0 may prove to be crucial in the long-term survival of our species.