With reporting from Simone Wilson.
They're getting closer and closer to finding aliens in space, and not the kind who'll help you remodel your home for only $50 a day.
And while we here in journo land are psyched to get the occasional minor scoop or a mention in LA Observed (and that alone is worthy of a bender), our friends over at NASA's Caltech-bred Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena can say today that they helped to discover a frigging planet.
And not just any planet:
The oddly named Kepler-22b was the first to be discovered in a "habitable zone" in space and represents "a step closer to finding Earth-like planets," according to NASA.
Two people from Caltech/JPL worked on the project, including Kepler project scientist Nick Gautier, a JPL staffer.
He told the Weekly he and his partner worked on data discovered at San Diego County's Palomar Observatory, which helped confirm the discovery and rule out nearby stars as the source of the light-based information that NASA absorbed through its Keppler satellite-based "photometer." Gautier:
The stuff we do at Palomar is really significant to make sure we get these planets right.
The discovery of a planet 600 light years away has gotten some news outlets all worked up about possible alien life (Yahoo News: "NASA Telescope Confirms Alien Planet in Habitable Zone"). The planet did show up in an area "where liquid water could exist," NASA states. And you know what that means:
Hot tubs. And that means procreation. And then life! Well, not really.
Whitney Clavin of JPL downplayed the earth-like qualities of 22b, telling the Weekly:
They do not know that this planet is habitable. It's one of the best candidates ... We're getting closer and closer to finding a planet with the right conditions to be habitable. This is the closest thing.
Sign us up for beachfront property. The discovery will be published in The Astrophysical Journal, NASA says.
Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist, said, "This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin."
Let's hope she's just as pretty.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Of 1,000 potential planets discovered by Keppler, and of 54 said to be possibly inhabitable, 22b is the firstborn.
Gautier said the naming came down to the association with the Keppler project, a nearby star they call 22 (and thus "a"), and its planet ("b"). No Planet Nick.
"We haven't convinced NASA to name them after us yet," he said.