Astronomers found Earth's 'older, bigger cousin.' And it's incredible.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ... wait, no.

Today, in our galaxy, NASA announced something big.

Astronomers from the Kepler spacecraft mission — a team devoted to spotting other worlds floating around out there in the abyss — announced the discovery of another planet.


That news (while admittedly pretty cool) isn't too groundbreaking on its own. After all, there are lots of other planets out there. But the characteristics of this particular new planet are what really has people talking.

The spacecraft identified Kepler-452b — a planet strikingly similar to Earth in many, many ways.

So similar, in fact, it's the most Earth-like planet we've ever discovered. In other words — from what NASA knows of Kepler-452b now — it could have the potential to host life.

Check out this artist's concept of what Kepler-452b might look like! Pretty Earth-ish, I'd say. Photo courtesy of NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

Kepler-452b is in its star's habitable zone, which means liquid water could exist there.

Earth is unique in that it's not too hot or cold for liquid water to exist. This is largely due to our placement within our solar system — we're not too far away or too close to the sun.

We're in our solar system's "Goldilocks zone," if you will.

Kepler-452b is incredibly similar to Earth in this regard. Kepler-452b revolves around its star every 385 days, as opposed to Earth's 365.

Speaking of Kepler-452b's host star ... it's the same type as our sun. That's important.

Stars are just like people — they come in all shapes and sizes (and temperatures). Those factors greatly affect the planets that revolve around them.

While Kepler has discovered other planets similar to Earth in some respects, this is the first time scientists have spotted one that's in the habitable zone of a G star, like our sun.

Image by NASA.

Kepler-452b and Earth are about the same size, too. And our "older, bigger cousin" might have volcanoes!

Kepler-452b's radius is just about 1.5 times that of Earth's. NASA believes there's a good chance Kepler-452b is also a rocky planet (as opposed to a big ball of gas), like Earth. If it is, Kepler-452b likely has volcanic activity.

Not too different, huh? Just so we're clear, though — Earth and Kepler-452b aren't actually this close. Kepler-452b is about 1,400 light years away from us.

Right now, though, we have more questions than answers when it comes to Kepler-452b.

There's still a lot to learn about our new (relatively close) neighbor.

When reached for comment, NASA's Michele Johnson told Upworthy that NASA still isn't sure if Kepler-452b has an atmosphere. We may only figure that out when we have more technologically advanced space telescopes, according to John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator.

But let's not let Kepler-452b hog the spotlight! It's just one of a dozen other potential Earth-like planets Kepler announced in its latest update.

While Kepler-452b is the only "Earth 2.0"-type planet NASA confirmed on July 23, 2015, the group recently discovered a dozen other possible Earth-like planets.

GIF via "Community."

So for anyone hoping we stumble upon another Earth out there, there's still plenty to look forward to.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less