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Keep our planet habitable, as we hunt for others like it

Scientists found an Earth-like planet the other day, but whether it is habitable may never be known. Earth Day reminds us to protect the environment of the only planet we know for certain is habitable – the one right under our feet.

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST
This artist’s rendering provided by NASA shows an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler-186f orbiting a star 500 light-years from Earth. Astronomers say the planet may hold water on its surface and is the best candidate yet of a habitable planet in the ongoing search for an Earth twin.

Today is Earth Day, an observance that began more than 4 decades ago to highlight environmental issues that threaten the planet.

Earth Day takes place on April 22, a date selected in 1970 by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

If humans ever decide to observe Earth-Like Planet Day, perhaps they will chose April 18, the date when astronomers announced a key find in their search for worlds similar to ours.

Scientists gave a name to the Earth-like planet whose discovery was announced Friday: Kepler-186f, named for NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope that detected it, according to the Associated Press.

The planet is about the size of Earth and orbits its star, a red dwarf known as Kepler-186, at about the distance that Mercury is from the sun. But because the red dwarf star emits far less energy than our sun, Kepler-186f is considered to orbit in the Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold) where life might exist.

But don’t plan on taking a trip to Kepler-186f anytime soon. Like Earth, it is in the Milky Way galaxy, but it’s in the constellation Cygnus – about 500 light-years, or about 3 quadrillion miles, away. Yikes!

At that distance, there’s probably no way to ever know for certain whether life exists on Kepler-186f.

But scientists hope to point future orbiting telescopes (the Kepler is out of commission because its gyroscope broke last year) at stars closer to us, where it is believed more Earth-like planets might exist.

Until then, Earth Day is a poignant reminder that the only life-supporting planet that humanity can count on is right here, under our feet.

Initial Earth Day environmental goals were to protect Earth’s air, water and soil from pollution and to clean up existing messes. In recent years, the buildup of greenhouse gases has posed new concerns.

Whether Earth is to remain a life-supporting home for future generations might well depend on the actions of this generation.

While scientists continue to search for habitable worlds among the stars, let’s do all we can to keep this world habitable.

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