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Kepler Data Suggests Earth-size Planets May Be Next Door
02.06.2013

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) News

Red Dwarf Planet
Red Dwarf Planet: The artist's conception shows a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Click image for full caption and larger size. Credit: D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Excerpt:
Using publicly available data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) estimate that six percent of red dwarf stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets in the "habitable zone," the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water.

The majority of the sun's closest stellar neighbors are red dwarfs. Researchers now believe that an Earth-size planet with a moderate temperature may be just 13 light-years away.

"We don't know if life could exist on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, but the findings pique my curiosity and leave me wondering if the cosmic cradles of life are more diverse than we humans have imagined," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist, NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Graph from today's CfA press conference
By analyzing publicly available Kepler data, CfA astronomers identified 95 planetary candidates circling red dwarf stars. Of those, three orbit within the habitable zone (marked in green) - the distance at which they should be warm enough to host liquid water on the surface. Those three planetary candidates (marked with blue dots) are 0.9, 1.4, and 1.7 times the size of Earth. In this graph, light received by the planet increases from left to right, and therefore distance to the star decreases from left to right. Planet size increases from bottom to top. Credit: C. Dressing (CfA)

The research team analyzed 95 planet candidates in the Kepler catalog orbiting 64 red dwarf stars...[and] three candidates are both temperate and smaller than twice the size of Earth.

...The three planetary candidates highlighted in this study are Kepler Object of Interest (KOI) 1422.02, which is 90 percent the size of Earth in a 20-day orbit; KOI-2626.01, 1.4 times the size of Earth in a 38-day orbit; and KOI-854.01, 1.7 times the size of Earth in a 56-day orbit.

Located between 300 to 600 light-years away, the three candidates orbit stars with temperatures ranging from 3,400 to 3,500 degrees Kelvin. By comparison, the temperature of the sun is nearly 5,800 degrees Kelvin.




Artwork: Red dwarf star
When it's young, a red dwarf star frequently erupts with strong ultraviolet flares as shown in this artist's conception. Some have argued that life would be impossible on any planet orbiting in the star's habitable zone as a result. However, the planet's atmosphere could protect the surface, and in fact such stresses could help life to evolve. And when the star ages and settles down, its planet would enjoy billions of years of quiet, steady radiance. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

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