A FORMER Tamworth man has played a lead role in the groundbreaking discovery of a new planet, described as the most likely outside of Earth to host life.
The planet, dubbed Kepler 186f, is roughly the same size as Earth, exists in the “habitable zone” and could have liquid water on its surface.
Professor Stephen Kane, who grew up in Tamworth, is now the Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of San Francisco and was part of the team that made the discovery.
“This is the smallest planet we’ve found so far in the habitable zone,” Dr Kane said.
“There seems to be a transition that occurs at about 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, such that if the planet is larger, then it starts to develop a very substantial atmosphere very similar to what we see in the gas giant planets in our own solar system.”
Scientists have no way of knowing if the planet actually hosts life and to send an unmanned voyage to it would take 100 million years.
But Wauchope-based astronomer Dave Reneke said the discovery, made with NASA’s Kepler telescope, was “hugely significant”.
“The holy grail of astronomy is finding a planet exactly like Earth and while this isn’t Earth’s twin, it’s certainly Earth’s cousin,” Mr Reneke said.
“The temperature is not too hot and not too cold; in other words, it’s likely to have running water. This is a candidate for another Earth.”
Mr Reneke said Kepler 186f was so far away, the light we see from its solar system actually left the planet around the same time Da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa.