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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs