• Andrew Wenger

Scientists discover distant ‘mirror image’ of Earth and Sun




Image source: Samuel Raphael: Distant Galaxy (oil on canvas)


Astronomers(1) have discovered a new planet, which is nothing remarkable, but there are many similarities between this distant planet – named KOI-456.04 – and our own. Researchers hope it could mean that the conditions there might even be able to support life. The exciting observation was made by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.


According to the Max Planck Society the star and its planet are a “mirror image” of the Earth and the Sun. They are situated a mind-boggling(2) 3,000 light-years from Earth, which is roughly 17,636,000,000,000,000 miles away.


To date, scientists have identified over 4,000 exoplanets – that is, planets that exist outside of the solar system – the Max Planck Society said.


Scientists are always especially interested to find planets that are similar to Earth, because this allows them to consider the possibility that life might exist there.


Let’s take a look(3) at some of the similarities:

First, KOI-456.04 orbits(4) a star that is similar to our Sun. This star – called Kepler-160 – actually gives off(5) bright light, which is something that most exoplanets’ stars don’t do. This is significant because most stars of exoplanets tend to belong to the ‘red dwarf’ classification of stars, that is: they are small and dim and mostly emit infrared radiation.


Second, Kepler-160 is very close to the Sun’s size, just 10 percent larger, and its surface temperature just 300 degrees cooler; which is a negligible(6) amount in astrophysical terms.


A third similarity between KOI-456.04 and Earth is its “year” - the length of time it takes to orbit its sun. This has been estimated at 378 days – very similar to the Earth’s 365 days.


In addition, KOI-456.04 is less than twice the size of the Earth. This again is significant, because almost all exoplanets of this size that might have life-supporting conditions, usually orbit red dwarfs, which means they would not receive an adequate amount(7) of heat and light.



Photo source: Tyler van der Hoeven

The research was conducted by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Society, the Sonneberg Observatory, the University of Göttingen, the University of California, and NASA.


The nature of Exoplanets can vary considerably. They can be small and rocky, like our own Mercury, but most that are detected are gas giants. Typically they are like our own Neptune – large, gassy, and approximately(8) four times larger than Earth.


How do scientists detect exoplanets in the first place? One way is by looking at whether the star repeatedly dims in brightness, which is a sign that planet might be passing in front of it.

Notes and questions:

1. Astronomers (noun)

These are scientists who study astronomy – the study of the physical universe beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

Question: What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?

2. mind-boggling (adj)

This is an adjective that means extremely surprising, intellectually overwhelming, mind-blowing...

Discussion question: What is the most mind-boggling fact you have heard in the last week?

3. take a look (verb)

This is an easy phrase to understand in this context, but...

Question: Can you think of a more formal word which would mean the same thing?

4. Orbit (verb)

This is a high-register word meaning to go around. It usually refers to planet and satellites, but...

Question: The M25 is known as London’s orbital motorway. In which direction does this road go, do you think?

a. North b. south c. straight through the middle d. all around the outside

5. give off (verb)

This is a phrasal verb meaning to emit

Question: Many phrasal verbs can become nouns:

The rocket will blast off in ten seconds. Ten seconds to blast-off.

The government is cracking down on benefit fraud. There’s going to be a crack-down.

Is it possible to make a noun with give off?

6. negligible (adj)

This is a common word in scientific reports. It means: so small as to be insignificant.

Question: Which verb is related to this adjective?

7. An adequate amount of...

This is another way of saying enough.

Question: This word is made up of words from one of the parents languages of English: ad = to and aequare = make level. Which language is this?

8. approximately

Synonyms: roughly, about,

Question: Which of the following is the most natural?

a. Approximately, the population of the United Kingdom is 56 million.

b. The population of the United Kingdom is approximately 56 million.

c. The population of the United Kingdom is 56 million, approximately.

Answers:

1. Astrology is sometimes called a “pseudo-science”, which means it is not a science at all. It is the study of the movements and positions of celestial bodies (planets and stars) and their supposed influence on human affairs.

2. ???

3. Examine, observe

4. d

5. No. There is no such word as an off-give, or even an off-giver.

6. To neglect, which means to fail to pay attention to something or somebody. The verb usually has negative connotations

7. Latin

8. c is definitely the best, although you will hear native speakers say all of these.

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