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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid