New Kepler exoplanets 'best candidates' for hosting life
Data from NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission has revealed two small, potentially rocky planets within their star's habitable zone.
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As the warmer of the two worlds, Kepler-62e would have a bit more clouds than Earth according to computer models. More distant Kepler-62f would need the greenhouse effect from plenty of carbon dioxide to warm it enough to host an ocean. Otherwise, it might become an ice-covered snowball.Skip to next paragraph
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“Kepler-62e probably has a very cloudy sky and is warm and humid all the way to the polar regions. Kepler-62f would be cooler, but still potentially life-friendly,” said Harvard astronomer and co-author Dimitar Sasselov. “The good news is — the two would exhibit distinctly different colors and make our search for signatures of life easier on such planets in the near future. “
The Kepler spacecraft is able to detect planets that transit or cross the face of their host star. Measuring a transit tells astronomers the size of the planet relative to its star.
“All of the other interesting planets in the habitable zone were until now discovered by what is known as the radial velocity method,” said Kaltenegger. “This method gives you a lower limit for the planet’s mass, but no information about its radius. This makes it difficult to assess whether or not a planet is rocky, like the Earth. A small radius (less than 2 Earth radii), on the other hand, is a strong indicator that a planet around is indeed rocky – unless we are talking about a planet around a very young star.”
“What makes Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f so exciting is a combination of two factors,” Kaltenegger added. “We know their radius, which indicates that these are indeed rocky planets, and they orbit their star in the habitable zone. That makes them our best candidates for habitable planets out there yet.
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Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with the Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.
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