NASA discovers planets capable of supporting life

Keplar telescope finds two far away planets.

NASA’s Keplar telescope has discovered two new planets in distant solar systems that seem ideal for life to flourish. These planets are the best candidates for habituation found so far by NASA’s planet-hunting telescope. According to scientists, the planets are just the right size and distance from their star to support life. These factors point to the possibility of having water, which is a pre-requisite for some sort of life to exist.

Since 1995, over 700 planets have been discovered outside of Earth’s solar system (these planets are known as exoplanets). Many of these planets are not in the habitable zone, an area that is neither too hot or too cold for liquid water, an essential component for supporting life. Only a handful of exoplanets have been found in the ideal zone, but are too big to support life. Scientists suspect these planets to be gas balls like Neptune.

The two new planets, named Keplar-62-e and Keplar-62-f, are just right. They both circle the same orange dwarf star in the Lyra constellation, and are close together in distance—closer together than Earth and Mars, our neighbour. The star they orbit is 7 billion years old—approximately 2.5 billion years older than our sun. The planets are 1,200 light years away from Earth (a light year is 10 trillion kilometres).

Both planets are wider than Earth. Keplar-62-e has warm temperatures, comparable to Hawaii, and Keplar-62-f has cooler temperatures, comparable to Alaska. Debate is ongoing as to which planet is likely to be better suited for life: researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggest that both planets are potentially water worlds, meaning that their surfaces are completely covered by a global ocean with no land in sight.

A third planet, Keplar-69-c, is 70 percent larger than the size of Earth, and also orbits the habitable zone. Astronomers are uncertain about its ability to support life, due to its size. It is suggested that this planet’s composition is similar to that of Earth’s neighbouring planet Venus.

The detection and confirmation of planets is an enormously collaborative effort. The mass and composition of the new planets are not yet confirmed, but previous studies of exoplanets that are similar in size allow the planets’ masses to be estimated by association.

The discovery of these planets in the habitable zone marks an important milestone in the search for planets where life could exist. Through this discovery, scientists are able to support their academic theories on life supporting planets with newly acquired knowledge.

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