An international team of astronomers has found two planets whose size and position suggest that they may support life.
The planets orbit a far-away star named Kepler-62 at just the right distance for liquid water and life to exist -- making them what scientists call Goldilocks planets, according to research published online by the journal Science today.
Compared with Earth, the planets, named Kepler-62e and Kepler62-f, are larger and receive 0.41 and 1.2 times the amount of solar radiation. The planet hunters, led by William Borucki of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, say they won’t know what the heavenly bodies look like or if they are in fact habitable until they can further analyze their atmospheres.
“Kepler-62e probably has a very cloudy sky and is warm and humid all the way to the polar regions,” Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and a co-author on the paper, said in a statement. “Kepler-62f would be cooler, but still potentially life- friendly.”
The planets were discovered using NASA’s Kepler satellite, a spacecraft launched in 2009 with a mission to help determine whether Earth-like planets might exist elsewhere in space. Kepler detects planets that cross the face of their stars, and gathers data that allows astronomers to estimate the size of the star and make suggestions about its composition.
The Kepler planets have 1.41 and 1.61 the radius of the Earth, according the researchers. Both planets may be solid, with either rocky or icy compositions, the scientists said.
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