New “Earth-like” planets were discovered using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, according to an announcement by scientists on Thursday.
The most intriguing of the planets is Kepler-62f. The planet is rocky and roughly 1.4 times the size of Earth. It circles a star that is smaller and more dim than our sun.
And the newly discovered planet’s neighbor, Kepler-62e, is about 1.6 times the size of Earth, making them some of the smallest exoplanets ever discovered in their star’s habitable zone. They are part of a newly found five-planet system.
Kepler science principal investigator Bill Borucki expressed his optimism about the planets, revealing that they “look very good as possibilities for looking for life.”
Along with 62f and 62e, Kepler 69-C is also potentially habitable. The exoplanet orbits a star similar to our own and is 1.7 times larger than Earth. It’s the smallest world found to date that is in the habitable zone of a star like our sun, according to researchers.
Researchers announced the existence of the three planets, called “super-Earths,” during a NASA news conference. The paper about Kepler-62 was also published on Thursday in the journal Science. The newly-found star system is about 1,200 light-years from earth in the constellation Lyra.
Of the five planets in the system, only Kepler-62e and f are potentially habitable. The other three planets are as big or smaller than Earth and fly by their sun too close to support life as we know it.
Computer models of the planets found by the Kepler telescope suggest that they are solid bodies made of rock, ice, or a mix of the two. It is believed that the two may even have polar caps, significant land masses, and liquid water, much like Earth. Kepler-62f orbits its sun every 267 days, about 100 days off Earth’s orbiting time.
The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 and is equipped with a 95-megapixel camera. It continually monitors the light from over 150,000 stars in a small patch of the sky pointed at Lyra. Planets that pass in front of their stars cause a slight, periodic dimming. Computer analysis times the dimming to discover new worlds, including ones that are similar to Earth.
[Image via NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech]