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NASA's Kepler Mission Spots Earth-like Planets Deemed Suitable For Life [VIDEO]

Apr 19, 2013 10:22 AM EDT
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Astronomers have discovered distant, rocky planets in the "habitable zone" of a star that appear to have conditions suitable for some sort of life. Scientists are celebrating the find as a milestone.

But don't pack your bags, the planets are 1,200 light years away.

"We only know of one star that hosts a planet with life, the Sun. Finding a planet in the habitable zone around a star like our Sun is a significant milestone toward finding truly Earth-like planets," said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, Calif.

Within the two newly found systems, planets named Kepler-62-e and Kepler-62-f seem to be more Earth-like than any planets discovered so far.Each of the two planets could be oceanic.

"This is the first one where I'm thinking 'Huh, Kepler-62-f really might have life on it'," said study co-author David Charbonneau of Harvard, according to an Associated Press report. "This is a very important barrier that's been crossed. Why wouldn't it have life?"

A third planet discovered in a separate system, Kepler-69c, is 70 percent larger than the size of Earth, and orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun, but it's composition is unknown, a NASA report said. A gas planet in a star's habitable zone is nothing new, and would not support life as we know it.

The Kepler-62 planets orbit the same star and are closer to one another than Earth and Mars. Their surface temperatures range from a Hawaiian tropic heat to a chilly Alaskan cold. There are another three planets in the systems that do not appear suitable for life.

"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," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, according to a NASA statement.

The Kepler-62 planet system orbits a star about 7 billion years old, some 2.5 billion years older than our Sun.

"If there's life at all on those planets, it must be very advanced," said William Borucki, the chief scientist for NASA's Kepler telescope.

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