Astronomers find most Earth-like planets yet

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This undated handout artist concept provided by Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows the newly discovered planets named Kepler-62e and -f. Scientists using NASA’s Kepler telescope have found two distant planets that are in the right place and are the right size for potential life. This handout image from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows an artist concept of what these two planets, called Kepler-62-e and Kepler-62-f look like. The larger planet in the left corner is somewhat covered by ice and is f, which is farther from the star. The planet below it is e, which is slightly warmer and has clouds and may be a water world. AP PHOTO/HARVARD SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS

WASHINGTON—Using a potent NASA space telescope to scan the skies for planets like ours where life might exist, astronomers said Thursday they have found the most Earth-like candidates yet.

Two of the five planets orbiting a sun-like star called Kepler-62 are squarely in what astronomers call the habitable zone—not too hot, not too cold and possibly bearing water, researchers said in the journal Science.

“These two are our best candidates that might be habitable,” said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The two planets are slightly larger than ours, and at least a couple of billion years older.

The first, 62e, is about 40 percent larger than Earth.

It might be warm, maybe even a waterworld, and may experience flashes of lightning, said Borucki.

The second, 62f, is about 60 percent larger than our planet, and orbits its star every 267 days, close to Earth’s annual trajectory of 365 days.

The planet may have polar caps, significant land masses and liquid water, Borucki said.

Both are orbiting a seven-billion-year-old star some 1,200 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra.

They are close enough to their star to be warm, but not so near as to boil the oceans. They are far enough to maintain the likelihood of water without freezing the seas solid, Borucki explained.

Scientists do not yet know if their surfaces are rocky or watery, or if they have atmospheres that could sustain life.

But their location and size suggest they “could plausibly be composed of condensable compounds and be solid, either as a dry, rocky super-Earth or one composed of a significant amount of water,” said the study.

Other studies have indicated that planets with a radius under 1.6 times that of the Earth, like these two, “have been found to have densities indicative of a rocky composition.”

Astronomers detected the planets by observing their star dim when the planets pass in front of it, in what is known as a “transit.”

“These are the most similar objects to Earth that we have found yet,” said Justin Crepp, assistant professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame.

Crepp first saw a dot near Kepler-62 about a year ago, and has studied the movements of the system for months in order to confirm the discovery.

A third potentially habitable planet, Kepler 69c, is on the “inner edge of what has been considered to be the habitable zone,” said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California.

However, that one may be small and hot and more like Venus, the second planet from our sun, said Barclay, whose research was published Thursday in the Astrophysical Journal.

“We’re not sure yet,” he told reporters. Its host star, Kepler 69, is about 2,700 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

All together, the latest findings add seven new planets—four of which are outside the habitable zone—to the tally that Kepler has found so far, totaling more than 2,700 candidates and confirmed planets.

In late 2011, NASA confirmed its first-ever planet in a habitable zone outside our solar system—Kepler 22b, spinning around its star some 600 light years away.

However, the large size of that exoplanet, at 2.4 times the size of the Earth, has left some doubt over whether the planet is rocky, gaseous or liquid.

Another large planet that Kepler has confirmed in the habitable zone, Kepler 47c, is also much bigger than Earth.

Kepler, launched in 2009, is NASA’s first mission in search of Earth-like planets orbiting suns similar to ours.

It is equipped with the largest camera ever sent into space in its search for planets as small as Earth, including those orbiting stars in a warm, habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface of the planet.—Kerry Sheridan

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  • Diablo_III

    I will volunteer to go there to escape the outrageous taxation here in our planet. lol

  • Albert Einstien

    ha ha ..people we are back in HISTORY…HUMAN nature…always grab what it can grab..it is called GREED…IMPERIALISM & HEGEMONIZATION…..we are now embarking on UNIVERSAL HEGEMONY….what about their inhabitants..we colonize them …they become stronger ….then rebel & DESTROY EARTH……do you still believe we are the ONLY living things with brains till now…..what if they are more ADVANCED …we discover them …& they discover us…can our nukes defeat them….or they have bigger dicks to pulverize earth in a second….to explore is good but aim is to visit not to colonize….lol

  • Mux

    If the radius is 1.6 times of Earth, then based in the Universal Gravitation Formula that means the gravity of that planet is 1.6 * 1.6 = 2.56 times that of Earth. That means we would weigh 2.56 times more. We would all have a hard time even just walking there.

  • speedsquared

    I’ll only go there if there are no trapos thank you!!!

    • nakawan

      They’ll probably the first on the spaceship :) still, this is a significant find for humanity. Terra-formed planets will eventually provide us with alternative homes for our species.

  • Vertumnus

    When can I buy a ticket to go there? That’s the more important question.

  • tarikan

    It seems that god missed these two earth-like planets. Those were not in His journal. When life was created in six days, god meant the Earth only. Hmmm, He really works in mysterious ways (always an excuse if things could not be explained).

    • nakawan

      that’s cause God didn’t just create the Earth. the architect– whoever that is– is the catalyst for a 14 billion year-old process of existence which the Bible condensed in story form just as means of simple explanation.

      • tarikan

        Who created god then, the Bible?

      • nakawan

        I don’t even want to pretend I know the answer to that question.

    • Albert Einstien

      when god created earth…those other planets have their own gods too…i’m more concern WHO created the GODS…& who created the CREATOR of gods..so on..this phenomena will only point to conclusion…our ancestors were DUPEd or we stay ignorant forever……where ignorance is bliss…….lol

      • tarikan

        I couldn’t agree more Herr Einstien. I’m a man of science myself so this creator thing mambo-jamboo confuses me a lot. When they are cornered for a reasonable answer, they always say god works in mysterious ways. Mysterious my A**. Most of their things contradict science or natural physics so to avoid embarrassment they always claim: God works in mysterious ways.

      • Albert Einstien

        with billions of stars & planets why god only chose earth.? … ….how can we ever WIN with an abstract answer ” god works in mysterious ways “…….maybe god is abstract & ONLY exist in the minds of a duped believer…they call faith.. …greatest scam on earth for centuries….ignorance is a bliss……they have planted a seed of abstract in the minds of the believers the only way to uproot it is the combination of education & reality but education is controlled by the ” FAITH “..in this country ..they plant seeds to young minds till they become the leaders of this country…….it becomes a cycle …….scam is institutionalized already… ……lol

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