Two dozen exoplanets superior to Earth for life?

The uncertainty of science: A team of scientists have now identified 24 exoplanets from the Kepler telescope archive that they propse might actually be better for life than Earth itself.

All the exoplanets are rocky and terrestrial, like the Earth. All are in the habitable zone, meaning that they orbit their star at a distance that makes their general temperature comparable to Earth.

What makes them superior, according to these scientists, are three factors. First, their stars are not G-type stars, like the Sun, but K-types. K-types have much longer lifespans, 70 billion years compared to the Sun’s 8 to 10 billion, allowing more time for life to develop.

Second, the planets have a slightly greater mass than Earth.

Part of the reason the Earth is habitable is because it’s large enough to be geologically active, giving it a protective magnetic field, and has enough gravity to retain an atmosphere. According to the team, if a planet was 10 percent larger, it would have more surface area to live on. If it was 1.5 times as massive as the Earth, its interior would retain more heat from radioactive decay, would remain active longer, and hold onto its atmosphere for a longer time.

Finally, the orbits of these two dozen exoplanets makes them just slighter warmer than Earth, which is thought to be beneficial to life.

This is interesting, but it is pure guesswork. These factors might make our Earth life happier, but these scientists have no idea if such conditions are beneficial or harmful to the creation of life. At present we have zero data on what the ideal conditions would be.

Astronomers identify giant exoplanets that might harbor habitable moons

Worlds without end: In reviewing the known exoplanets astronomers have identified more than a hundred giant exoplanets located in the habitable zone that might harbor habitable moons.

The researchers identified 121 giant planets that have orbits within the habitable zones of their stars. At more than three times the radii of the Earth, these gaseous planets are less common than terrestrial planets, but each is expected to host several large moons.

Scientists have speculated that exomoons might provide a favorable environment for life, perhaps even better than Earth. That’s because they receive energy not only from their star, but also from radiation reflected from their planet. Until now, no exomoons have been confirmed.

Using this new database scientists will optimize future instruments on both the ground and in space to look for and study the moons circling these exoplanets.

Using Kepler astronomers have found a solar system with five terrestrial-type planets, with two in the habitable zone.

Eden? Using Kepler astronomers have found a solar system with five terrestrial-type planets, with two in the habitable zone.

Using observations gathered by NASA’s Kepler Mission, the team, led by William Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center, found five planets orbiting a Sun-like star called Kepler-62. Four of these planets are so-called super-Earths, larger than our own planet, but smaller than even the smallest ice giant planet in our Solar System. These new super-Earths have radii of 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 times that of Earth. In addition, one of the five was a roughly Mars-sized planet, half the size of Earth. …

The two super-Earths with radii of 1.4 and 1.6 Earth radii orbit their star at distances where they receive about 41% and 120%, respectively, of the warmth from their star that the Earth receives from the Sun. The planets are thus in the star’s habitable zone; they have the right temperatures to maintain liquid water on their surfaces and are theoretically hospitable to life.

Theoretical modeling of the super-Earth planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, suggests that both could be solid, either rocky–or rocky with frozen water.

This is big news. Additional info can be found here and here.

The Kepler science team today revealed an additional 461 candidate exoplanets, with four being less than twice Earth’s size and in the habitable zone.

Worlds without end: The Kepler science team today revealed an additional 461 candidate exoplanets, with four being less than twice Earth’s size and in the habitable zone.

Since the last Kepler catalog was released in February 2012, the number of candidates discovered in the Kepler data has increased by 20 percent and now totals 2,740 potential planets orbiting 2,036 stars. The most dramatic increases are seen in the number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates discovered, which grew by 43 and 21 percent respectively. The new data increases the number of stars discovered to have more than one planet candidate from 365 to 467. Today, 43 percent of Kepler’s planet candidates are observed to have neighbor planets.

Of these candidates, 105 have so far been confirmed to be exoplanets by other methods.

Note that these Kepler planets are in addition to the fifteen new exoplanets noted in my previous post.

Another planet has been found in the habitable zone

Planets without end: Another planet has been found in the habitable zone.

Gliese 163c could have a size between 1.8 to 2.4 Earth radii, depending if it is composed mostly of rock or water, respectively. It receives on average 40% more light from its parent star than Earth from the Sun, making it hotter. In comparison, Venus receives 90% more light from the Sun than Earth. We do not know the properties of the atmosphere of Gliese 163c but, if we assume that it is a scaled up version of Earth’s atmosphere, then its surface temperature might be around 60°C [140°F]. Most complex life on Earth (plants, animals, and even humans) are not able to survive at temperatures above 50°C [122°F], however, plenty of extremophilic microbial life forms can thrive at those temperatures or higher.

One astronomer has found that the habitable zone around some smaller stars is smaller than first calculated because of tidal heating.

One astronomer has found that the inner edge of the habitable zone around some dwarf stars is smaller than first calculated because tidal forces overheat planets close to the star.

Then again, this heating might expand the habitable zone in other directions. Stars might overheat when close to the star, but get a boost of needed heat when they would normally be too far away.

Is it snowing microbes on Enceladus?

Is it snowing microbes on Enceladus?

“More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus’s south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place,” says Carolyn Porco, an award-winning planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. “Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth’s oceans.”

Another superEarth has been found orbiting a star in the habitable zone.

Another superEarth has been found orbiting a star in the habitable zone.

An M-class dwarf star called GJ 667C, which is 22 light-years away from Earth, had previously been observed to have a super-Earth (called GJ 667Cb) that orbited the star in only 7.2 days, making it too close to the star, and thus too hot, to support life.

The study started with the aim of learning more about the orbit of GJ 667Cb. But the research team found a clear signal of a new planet (GJ 667Cc) with an orbital period of 28.15 days and a minimum mass of 4.5 times that of Earth.

Though the planet is much closer to its star than the Earth, the star itself is much smaller and dimmer, so overall the planet gets about the same amount of energy as the Earth.