A Look At Kepler Discovered “Most Earth Like” Planets to Date

By: | June 21st, 2013

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NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered two new planetary systems: Kepler-62 with five planets and Kepler-69 with two planets. The two systems include three super-Earth size planets in the habitable zone of their stars. To date, Kepler has discovered about 3,000 “habitable zone” planet candidates.

According to the New York Times astronomers believe the “new findings represent the most Earth like discoveries to date.”

What is a Habitable Zone?

The “habitable zone” is the distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet is suitable for the existence of liquid water. The three new planets are slightly larger than the size of Earth and are located about 1,200 light years from Earth.

The following video shows data being manipulated to discover “habitable zone” canditdates:

Kepler 62 System

Two of the three planets are located in a five planet system called Kepler 62 that has a host star that is smaller and cooler than our sun. The remaining three planets in Kepler 62 are located close to their sun and so are very hot and inhospitable to life. Kepler 62e is one of the habitable planets and is about 60% larger than the earth and orbits its sun every 122 days. The other habitable planet is Kepler 62f which is about 40% larger than our earth, appears to be a rocky planet and has a 262 day year. These two planets are the smallest yet discovered in a habitable zone of another star.

Kepler 69 System

The other system, Kepler 69, which has two planets, one of them in a habitable zone, is 2,700 light years from Earth. The star in this system is very similar to our own sun though it is slightly smaller and cooler. Kepler 69c is about 70% larger than Earth and has a 242 day year.

Kepler 69 System

Kepler Mission

Kepler Mission, managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center, is currently searching a specific area in space in the hunt for habitable planets. The objective of the mission is to find planets that are as close to being twins of the Earth in their ability to support and sustain life.

Kepler Damaged & Unlikely To Be Fixed

Currently two of Kepler’s four gyroscopes that help it’s cameras maintain a steady gaze into space are not working, making it difficult to obtain clear pictures. Unfortunately, Kepler cannot be serviced by astronauts like Hubble because the Space Shuttle has been retired and it is in a heliocentric orbit, making it unreachable anyway.

According to NASA:

“with the failure of a second reaction wheel, it’s unlikely that the spacecraft will be able to return to the high pointing accuracy that enables its high-precision photometry. However, no decision has been made to end data collection.

Kepler had successfully completed its primary three-and-a-half year mission and entered an extended mission phase in November 2012.

Even if data collection were to end, the mission has substantial quantities of data on the ground yet to be fully analyzed, and the string of scientific discoveries is expected to continue for years to come.”

David Schilling

David lives in the Allston, Boston, Massachusetts, and regularly visits MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Northeastern, Boston\\’s leading companies and labs, the stacks at Boston Atheneaum and Boston Public Library to uncover and research story ideas. You can also find David on Google+.

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