Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet â€¦ The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday seasonâ€¦. Of the 54 “habitable” zone planet candidates seen so far, Kepler-22b is the first to be confirmed.
Put simply, Kepler-22b was included as a candidate exoplanet soon after the launch of the Kepler Mission in March 2009. Continued observations have confirmed its existence, and opened the door to further announcements of exoplanets to be found in the Goldilocks region of distant solar systems. NASA’s Press Release gave details about the confirmed exoplanet’s location and orbit:
Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.
The announcement was made at the Kepler Mission’s inaugural science conference hosted at Ames from December 5-9. Here’s how NASA described the present tally of exoplanets:
The Kepler team is â€¦ announcing 1,094 new planet candidate discoveries. Since the last catalog was released in February, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now totals 2,326. Of these, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55 are larger than Jupiter.
According to Alan Boss, a Carnegie Institute researcher that is part of the Kepler Mission:
This discovery supports the growing belief that we live in a universe crowded with life … Kepler is on the verge of determining the actual abundance of habitable, Earth-like planets in our galaxy’.
The confirmation of Kepler-22b as the first habitable exoplanet opens the door to the study of the social and political consequences of extraterrestrial life. Fortunately, some scientific institutions such as the Royal Society have endorsed such an exopolitical discussion. One likely impact of Kepler-22b is that more scientific institutions will follow the lead of the Royal Society. Eventually, the scientific community will need to examine the vast evidence accumulated over the last six decades, that extraterrestrial life is not only real and found throughout the galaxy, but they have been watching, and even visiting us, for a very long time.
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