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Kepler sees five-planet system with most Earth-like exoplanet yet

from University of Washington

Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope have discovered a 5-planet system that, as reported in Science, contains two exoplanets that may be the best candidates to harbor human life. The new system, Kepler-62, is just one of a backlog of many systems in the Kepler mission data.

The two possibly habitable planets in this system, dubbed Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, are 1.61 and 1.4 times Earth’s size, respectively. Kepler-62e orbits the star in 122.4 (Earth) days, Kepler-62f in 267.3 days. Kepler-62e gets about 20 percent more solar flux than Earth does. Kepler-62f receives about half as much. Kepler-62 is a K-type star somewhat colder and smaller than our Sun, and is only 1,200 light-years from Earth. In a separate paper, submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers show that these planets are the first viable candidates for habitable zone water planets.

In an interview with Waves and Packets, Professor Abel Mendez of the University of Puerto Rico’s Planet Habitability Laboratory said that the habitable zone is the region around a star where an Earth-like planet could support surface liquid water. “We only consider main sequence MKGF stars. Bigger stars are prone to damaging UV,” says Mendez.

UV radiation can dissociate water vapor and make H2 gas. A sequence of events could then evolve where the planetary atmosphere is drawn into the host star. However, Mendez points out that M-stars emit many flares that seem tolerable by planets. more


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