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NASA May Be About To Reveal The Discovery Of A New ‘Earth’

Yes, we know it sounds like a lavish PR stunt for the next major Hollywood sci-fi epic, but we've checked the speaker list and Tom Cruise isn't appearing.

At 17:00 GMT on 23 July, NASA will hold a press conference to announce the latest findings of its planet-hunting Kepler mission. There's a change they could make an announcement that could chance the course of... well, everything human kind is doing with space. Here's why.

Launched in March 2009, NASA's Kepler spacecraft has been using one of the world's most powerful photometers (basically a telescope that looks for light) to probe the deepest, darkest corners of space. It's mission? To look for far off planets (or exoplanets, to be exact) - particularly those that hold the potential for the formation of liquid water and sit within a "habitable zone" of the star it orbits. They're looking for another Earth.

The "habitable zone" is hugely important for finding an Earth-like planet: too close to a star, and the surface will likely be a molten vat of horribleness, too far and it could be a frozen desert. 

The Kepler spots these planetary bodies by looking for a "transit event", which has nothing to do with white vans, but rather a tiny dip in the light levels given off by a distant star.

This indicates that something has passed in front of the star in its orbit, allowing NASA to determine a bunch of properties, from its size to whether it sits in a habitable zone.

So far, the Kepler mission has spotted 1,000 planets, and a further 3,000 possible planets. At their press briefing today, NASA will announce the Kepler's latest findings - which could well include an Earth-sized planet, sitting in a habitable zone.

Should that be the case, NASA could point a whole heap of equipment, researchers and tech, at the spot of sky that this Earth candidate sits in, allowing us to find out (or have a good guess) if it really could be awash with oceans, mountains and - just possibly - life.

It could be the first of many, or just a one-off - but it's the sort of discovery that means future trips into the big black could be pointed at this discovery. Sure, we won't visit it for a very, very long time, but it's something to aim at, right?

We'll find out for sure when NASA reveals all at 17:00. You'll be able to watch the press conference stream right here.

If you need us, we'll be watching Star Trek episodes on repeat until then.

(Images: NASA)

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