It could have oceans.
A very distant planet about 1,200 light-years away from Earth is looking like a pretty good candidate for a habitable world. The planet is named Kepler-62f and is approximately 40 percent larger than Earth. It could be rocky and even have oceans.
NASA’s Kepler telescope discovered Kepler-62f in 2013, but the mission did not produce any information about its composition, atmosphere, or the shape of its orbit.
Aomawa Shields, a National Science Foundation astronomy and astrophysics postdoctoral fellow in UCLA’s department of physics and astronomy, along with University of Washington astronomers Rory Barnes, Eric Agol, Benjamin Charnay, Cecilia Bitz, and Victoria Meadows, developed possible scenarios about Kepler-62f’s atmosphere and the shape of its orbit to investigate the possibility of the planet sustaining life.
The research has been published online in the journal Astrobiology.
“We found there are multiple atmospheric compositions that allow it to be warm enough to have surface liquid water,” said Shields, who is also the study’s lead author, in a UCLA news release. “This makes it a strong candidate for a habitable planet.”
Carbon dioxide makes up 0.04 percent of the atmosphere here on Earth, but because Kepler-62f is a lot farther away from its star than Earth is from the sun, more carbon dioxide would be needed to keep the planet warm enough for liquid water to be maintained on its surface.
In fact, for Kepler-62f to be habitable throughout its entire year, its atmosphere would need to be three to five times thicker than Earth’s and made entirely of carbon dioxide. This high concentration of carbon dioxide could keep the planet warm as temperatures get colder.
If it instead had an Earth-like amount of carbon dioxide, “certain orbital configurations could allow Kepler-62f’s surface temperatures to temporarily get above freezing during a portion of its year,” explained Shields. “And this might help melt ice sheets formed at other times in the planet’s orbit.”
This is the first time astronomers have combined both orbit and climate to study an exoplanet. The researchers suggest that this technique could also be used to learn whether prospective exoplanets closer to Earth are habitable.
“This will help us understand how likely certain planets are to be habitable over a wide range of factors, for which we don’t yet have data from telescopes,” Shields said. “And it will allow us to generate a prioritized list of targets to follow up on more closely with the next generation of telescopes that can look for the atmospheric fingerprints of life on another world.”
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