Distant worlds may be Earth-like, study reports

Astronomers found that the worlds Kepler-186f and Kepler-62f both could potentially host life.
By Joseph Scalise | Nov 13, 2018
A pair of exoplanets in the habitable zones of their host stars likely have stable climates and regular, Earth-like seasons, according to new research inThe Astronomical Journal.

This finding -- which comes from researchers at both Georgia Tech and Harvard University -- shows that the worlds Kepler-186f and Kepler-62f tilt on their axis in the same way as Earth. That makes both planets good candidates for potential life.

How a planet tilts on its axis directly influences how much light reaches its surface, which then affects the climate. Not only does a world need to sit within a habitable zone, it also needs to have the correct tilt to support life.

That is why, unlike Earth, Mars is a barren wasteland.

"That instability probably contributed to the decay of the Martian atmosphere and the evaporation of surface water," saidstudy co-author Gongjie Li, an assistant professor atGeorgia Tech, according toNewsweek

There are many aspects that can alter a planet's orientation angle as it moves around its host star. However, natural satellites like moons can dampen those shifts and help regulate a planet's axial tilt. For that reason, discovering more about the worlds will provide a better idea of their mechanisms.

Kepler-62f lies approximately 1,200 light-years from Earth, and it is about 40 percent larger than our world. In contrast, Kepler-186f sits 500 light-years away in a five-planet system. It is 10 percent larger than Earth and its years are much shorter.

That is all researchers know for now, but further study could be a large step in thesearch for extraterrestrial life.

"I don't think we understand enough about the origin of life to rule out the possibility of their presence on planets with irregular seasons," said lead authorYutong Shan, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement. "Even on Earth, life is remarkably diverse and has shown incredible resilience in extraordinarily hostile environments. But a climatically stable planet might be a more comfortable place to start."

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