Latest planetary discovery astounding

Published 1:00 am Sunday, December 11, 2011

Are we alone?

That question has plagued scientists, astronomers and everyday people for millenia. For astronomers and those just staring into the night sky at the vast expanse of stars and planets millions of miles away, the question is indeed valid.

NASA on Monday enhanced the debate with the discovery of a planet similar to our Earth a whopping 600 light years away, which represents the amount of time it would take light to reach our earth. Since a light year is 5.9 trillion miles it would take the space shuttle 22 million years to get there.

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Ponder that.

The planet — named Kepler-22b — was discovered by the Kepler satellite. The fact that a manmade satellite could retrieve viewable, clear images of an orbital body 600 light years away is awe-inspiring. Consider that it has been only 42 years and a few months since man first stepped onto the surface of the moon. In the scope of human, and planetary, history, 42 Earth years is but a spec of dust. In that time, though, we have advanced to the point of the Kepler satellite’s accomplishment.

Scientists confirmed the planet on Monday after seeing the planet, which is located outside of our solar system, orbit a star similar to our sun three times. Scientists also say the planet lies within the Goldilocks region — not too warm and not too cold. There are believed to be rock formations and water on the planet, and the surface temperature is referred to as a shopping-mall 72 degrees.

The planet is considerably larger than our own, and that might scuttle talk of life on Kepler-22b. But the amazing task of discovering and photographing the planet is astounding.

And it heightens the age-old debate of whether we are alone in this universe.