"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step in finding worlds like our planet Earth," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. The Kepler Space Telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA's first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun.
Grunsfeld said "Future NASA missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite are poised to determine the composition and atmospheric conditions of distant worlds, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."
Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in California and lead author of the paper in the journal Science, said this finding of a habitable-zone planet comparable to Earth in size is "a major step forward. We know of just one planet where life exists -- Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic those of Earth."
While this discovery is exciting, Ford said it is only the tip of the iceberg of exciting discoveries to come.
"In the coming years, we will continue to discover planets increasingly similar to our Earth. We will find small planets around stars that are brighter and closer to Earth, making them easier to study in more detail. We will measure their masses and densities, so as to understand their composition using next-generation observatories like the Habitable Zone Planet Finder and MINERVA observatories that are being developed by the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State."
The Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds is supported by Penn State, the Penn State Eberly College of Science and the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium. Penn State's participation in this research was supported by NASA Kepler Participating Scientist Program grant (NNX12AF73G).
NASA Ames is responsible for Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Colorado developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.
The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.
More information about the Kepler mission is online at http://www.nasa.gov/kepler