Super-Earths: Two Earth-like planets that could host life discovered

NASA scientists have discovered two new Earth-like planets in the habitable orbit of a Sun-like star, 1,200 light years away, which could potentially host life.

Using observations gathered by NASAs Kepler Mission, the team, led by William Borucki of the agency’s Ames Research Center, found five planets orbiting a Sun-like star called Kepler-62.

Four of these planets are so-called super-Earths, larger than our own planet, but smaller than even the smallest ice giant planet in our Solar System.

“The detection and confirmation of planets is an enormously collaborative effort of talent and resources, and requires expertise from across the scientific community to produce these tremendous results,” said Borucki.

These new super-Earths have radii of 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 times that of Earth. In addition, one of the five was a roughly Mars-sized planet, half the size of Earth.

Kepler-62 is one of about 170,000 stars observed by the Kepler Space Telescope, with a mass about 69 per cent of that of our Sun.

The two super-Earths with radii of 1.4 and 1.6 Earth radii orbit their star at distances where they receive about 41 per cent and 120 per cent, respectively, of the warmth from their star that the Earth receives from the Sun.

The planets are thus in the star’s habitable zone, they have the right temperatures to maintain liquid water on their

surfaces and are theoretically hospitable to life.

Theoretical modelling of the super-Earth planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, suggests that both could be solid, either rocky – or rocky with frozen water.

“This appears to be the best example our team has found yet of Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star,” Alan Boss from Carnegie Institution for Science said in a statement.

Kepler-62e, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the Sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra orbits it’s host star every 122 days and is roughly 60 per cent larger than Earth in size.

Scientists do not know if it is a waterworld or if it has a solid surface, but its discovery signals another step closer to finding a world similar to Earth.

The study was published in Science Express.

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