UT astronomer helps find Earth's 'big cousin'

Its official name is...a little boring: Keplar 452b.  But you could call it Earth's bigger and older cousin.  And it's anything but boring.
However it's not quite "Earth 2.0" according to UT astronomer Michael Endl.

"We haven't found that yet but this is the first step.  This is the closest to it.  So maybe you could say it's an Earth 2.5," Endl said.

Endl is a research scientist at UT.  We interviewed him with an Austin-campus rooftop observatory as a backdrop.  But the McDonald Observatory in West Texas is actually where Endl helped scope out the new planet for NASA.

It's not exactly in our neighborhood -- it's about 1400 light years from here.  But UT says the planet is the most similar to Earth found yet.  What it really looks like, that's still a mystery.

"Does it have an atmosphere, what's the surface?  Does this atmosphere maybe even show signs of biological activities?  Life?  That's all hopefully coming in the next few decades," Endl said.

One thing is for sure: The stuff of science fiction is now becoming science fact.

Robert Hill is retired Army.  He specialized in chemical hazmat.  Now he's doing what he loves -- working in the sci-fi biz at Dragons Lair Comics and Fantasy in Austin.

The idea of an Earth-like planet fascinates him.

"I think it would be amazing.  It would probably alleviate some tension here on Earth depending on how close it was.  It would absolutely spur interest in space travel again.  Maybe take us back to the glory days of the '60s," Hill said.

But could there be life there?  If there is intelligent life somewhere besides this planet, Steven Hawking wants to listen to what the other worldly beings are saying.  He's part of a $100 million project announced this week called "Breakthrough Listen" that will scan the skies using 10 billion different frequencies.

"It's great to listen...to listen to the cosmos and see if we can find anything.  I think the chances are low.  But doesn't mean we shouldn't look for it," Endl said.

"There could be intelligent life out there, we just might not be able to see it.  They could be communicating in ways that are too subtle for us to completely understand.  There could be forms of life out there that we just wouldn't understand as life," Hill said.