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Earth-like Planet 1,200 Light Years Away Capable of Sustaining Life, UCLA Study Shows

May 30, 2016 05:35 AM EDT
Artist's Conception of Kepler-62f (IMAGE)
An artist's conception of Kepler-62f, a planet in the 'habitable zone' of a star located about 1,200 light-years from Earth.
(Photo : NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

A new study, published in the journal Astrobiology, reveals that a distant planet located some 1,200 light years away from Earth may have a rocky appearance and may also contain ocean, making it capable of sustaining life.

"We found there are multiple atmospheric compositions that allow it to be warm enough to have surface liquid water," said Aomawa Shields, a University of California President's Postdoctoral Program Fellow, in a statement. "This makes it a strong candidate for a habitable planet."

The planet, known as Kepler-62f, was first discovered during the NASA's Kepler mission in 2013. During the mission, scientists were able to determine that the planet is 40 percent larger than the Earth and is the outermost of five planets orbiting a star that is smaller and cooler than the sun. However, the Kepler mission did not produce necessary information to determine the composition, atmosphere and orbit shape of Kepler-62f.

For the study, researchers developed various scenarios about of possible atmospheric conditions and orbit shape of Kepler-62f in order to identify if the planet is capable of sustaining life. To calculate the shape of the orbital path of the planet, researchers an existing computer model called HNBody. Meanwhile, they used existing global climate models (the Community Climate System Model and the Laboratoire de Me´te´orologie Dynamique Generic model) to simulate its climate.

The researchers then generated computer simulations based on three different conditions. First, the planet has an atmosphere as thick as Earth all the way to thicker. Second, various carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, ranging from the same amount as is in the Earth's atmosphere up to 2,500 times that level. The last scenario showed different possible configurations for its orbital path.

According to the press release of UCLA, many scenarios assuming different levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allow it to be habitable. There scenarios also suggest that Kepler-62f could sustain life for its entire year, if it has three to five times thicker atmosphere than Earth and is composed entirely of carbon dioxide. If by chance, Kepler-62f can't produce the needed carbon dioxide and only has the amount equal to Earth's, certain orbital configuration might provide surface temperatures to allow a portion of the planet to melt, while other parts remain frozen.

At present, over 2,300 exoplanets have been confirmed, and a few thousand others are considered planet candidates, but only a couple dozen are known to be in the "habitable zone." There are still no concrete evidence proving life can exists on other planets beside Earth, but researchers like Shields still remain optimistic that future advancement of technology can provide better understanding of life in the universe.

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