News / Science & Technology

Space Telescope Spots Distant Planets Well Placed for Life

Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of April 18, 2013 in this artist's rendition provided by NASA. (L to R) Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler 62f and Earth.
Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of April 18, 2013 in this artist's rendition provided by NASA. (L to R) Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler 62f and Earth.
Suzanne Presto
Scientists have announced the discovery of three planets, in two planetary systems, that are in or on the edge of the so-called habitable zone, the range that is just the right distance from their stars so they wouldn't be too hot or too cold to have liquid water.

They made these discoveries with NASA's Kepler space telescope.

Kepler-62

William Borucki, the Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, described the Kepler-62 planetary system, which he says is 1,200 light years away.  One light year is 10 trillion kilometers.

Much like our solar system, he said, Kepler-62 is home to two habitable-zone worlds, called Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f.  Those planets are about one-and-a-half times the size of Earth.

"In fact, these two planets are our best candidates for planets that might be habitable, not just in the habitable zone," he told reporters at a news conference at Ames.  "They're part of a planetary system of five planets that we've discovered so far, but these are the two that are most important."   

Borucki said 62e might be a water world, but scientists aren't certain as they only know its radius, not its mass.  He says planet 62f, the smaller of the two, might very well be a rocky planet, and possibly have polar caps, significant land masses and water.      

Planets 62e and 62f orbit a star about two-thirds the size of our sun and one-fifth as luminous.  Borucki says if you imagined yourself standing on 62f, it would be as bright as a cloudy day on Earth.  

Why Size Matters

These are the smallest exoplanets found in a habitable zone.  

Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, says scientific models indicate that planets about this size could have water.

"The fascinating idea is that maybe we've actually found the first ocean planets, the first water worlds out there, and what it just shows you is the diversity that we're discovering out there," she said.  "And let me say that we only have the radius, so what we infer from the models is very exciting but always has to be taken a little bit with a grain of salt."    

Kepler-69

Thomas Barclay, a Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in California, is most excited about the discovery of a planet in another system -- Kepler 69.  He says Kepler-69c is a planet 70-percent bigger than Earth that orbits a sun-like star, and it's just on the edge of the habitable zone.

"The habitable zone is a region between fire and ice.  Well, this is orbiting closer to the fire than the ice," he said.  "We consider this perhaps to be more of a super-Venus than a super-Earth, perhaps."   

Kepler Space Telescope

The Kepler space telescope explores the structure and diversity of planetary systems.  It finds planets by looking for tiny dips in the brightness of a star that occur when a planet crosses in front of it.  

Kepler was launched in 2009, and it has found more than 100 planets.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid