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Kepler mission finds Earth’s older ‘cousin’

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. (NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech Illustration / T. Pyle)

Scientists say NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered Earth’s “older, bigger first cousin” –  a planet that’s about 60 percent bigger than our own, circling a sunlike star in an orbit that could sustain liquid water and perhaps life.

“Today, Earth is a little bit less lonely, because there’s a new kid on the block,” Kepler data analysis lead Jon Jenkins, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said during a NASA teleconference about the find.

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What are Ceres’ spots? Reply hazy, ask again later

Ceres' Occator Crater
Haze has been detected in Ceres’ Occator Crater. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA Photo)

The crater that contains those puzzlingly bright spots on Ceres may harbor an equally puzzling haze. Or not. The hints of haze on the dwarf planet, seen in some of the images coming from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, add another intriguing twist to Ceres’ mysteries.

The hubbub over haze arose this week during the Exploration Science Forum at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. For months, Dawn’s scientists have been observing – and trying to make sense out of – unusually reflective spots within Ceres’ craters that show up when the asteroid turns into the sunlight. The team has speculated that they could be frozen pools of water ice, or patches of light-colored, salt-rich material.

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