NASA’s Kepler telescope discovered three new planets that could be capable of supporting life today. Scientists say one of the planets may be the most earth-like planet discovered to date.
Two of the planets are found in the Kepler-62 system, while the other is found in the Kepler-69 system.
The new planets, named Kepler-62e, Kepler -62f, and Kepler-69c, are located in what is called the ‘habitable zone’ in relation to their sun. Being in the habitable zone means the planets are a distance from their sun that makes liquid water, a necessity for life, possible.
Kepler-62f is the planet scientists say could be the most earth-like planet ever discovered. The planet is 1.4 times the size of earth. It’s neighboring star, Kepler-62f is 1.6 times the size of earth. Both planets orbit a star that is slightly smaller and 20% dimmer than our sun. Kepler62-e and Kepler62-f take 122 and 267 days, respectively, to orbit their sun.
The third potentially life-supporting planet announced today, Kepler-69c, is 1.7 times the size of earth. The planet orbits a sun very similar in size and brightness to our own sun. Although nearly twice the size of earth, scientists say Kepler-69c is the smallest planet ever found in the habitable zone of a star comparable to our sun.
All three planets are “super-earths,” meaning they are all larger than planet earth.
The Kepler Telescope, introduced in March of 2009, has proved to be a valuable tool in space exploration. In the four years since its launch, the telescope has identified over 2,700 possible planets.
“The Kepler spacecraft has certainly turned out to be a rock star of science,” said John Grunsfeld. Grunsfeld is the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"The discovery of these rocky planets in the habitable zone brings us a bit closer to finding a place like home. It is only a matter of time before we know if the galaxy is home to a multitude of planets like Earth, or if we are a rarity,” Grunsfeld added.
The telescope identifies planets using what is known as the transit method. When a potential planet crosses in front of its star, a percentage of light from that star is blocked. The drop in brightness level from the star allows scientists to identify the size of the orbiting planet. Bigger planets block more light, and smaller planets block less light. The process has proved to be hugely successful.
“Back in the good old days, you'd find one or two crappy, Jupiter-like planets, and you'd be on the cover of Time magazine. But those days are long gone," says Paul Butler, a planet hunter at the Carnegie Institute for Science.
Comparing today’s findings from the Kepler telescope to findings from “the good old days”, one can only imagine what space news will sound like twenty or thirty years from now.