Has This Week Been Too Much? Scientists Discover Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

Three new potentially habitable exoplanets may be this week’s only good news.

Artists illustrations of the previously known Kepler 22b, and the new 69c, 62e and 62f line up next to Earth.
Artists illustrations of the previously known Kepler 22b, and the new 69c, 62e and 62f line up next to Earth. NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

This week. Man. Waco, ricin, Boston. The satirical site The Onion put it best (warning, full story contains swear words):

“Seriously, can we wrap this up already?” Maryland resident James Alderman told reporters, echoing the thoughts of all 311 million Americans, who have just about reached their weekly goddamned quota for carnage, misery, confusion, heartbreak, and rage. “Because, you know, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had our hearts ripped out of our chests and stomped on enough times for one seven-day period, thank you very much.”

In case you share The Onion’s sentiments, a spot of good news from Science: astronomers have discovered the “most Earth-like” planets yet, orbiting a far off star. Two planets, says the BBC’s Jonathan Amos, are just a bit bigger than our rocky Earth, and orbit their star in about the right place to have liquid water. And, best of all for those wanting to get far, far away from this week: the planets, Kepler 62e and 62f, are around 1,200 light years away. NASA says that they also found another third potentially habitable planet, Kepler 69c, around a second star. According to the BBC:

“Statements about a planet’s habitability always depend on assumptions,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, an expert on the likely atmospheres of “exoplanets” and a member of the discovery group.

“Let us assume that the planets Kepler-62e and -62f are indeed rocky, as their radius would indicate. Let us further assume that they have water and their atmospheric composition is similar to that of Earth, dominated by nitrogen, and containing water and carbon dioxide,” the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg researcher went on.

“In that case, both planets could have liquid water on their surface.”

The scientists, says Nature, “theorize that the two water worlds are either liquid all the way down to their core or have a solid surface just beneath a shallower ocean. The latter model would be more conducive to life as we know it on Earth, where a recycling of material and energy from hydrothermal vents can sustain organisms, Sasselov says.”

The planets are there, we know that. But their potential habitability is still mostly educated guesswork. But, as this week continues to unfold, getting a closer look at Keplers 62e, 62 and 69c sounds just a little more tempting.

More from Smithsonian.com:

No, You Can’t Officially Rename a Planet. But No One Can Stop You From Trying
Newly Discovered Earth-like Planet Could be Habitable