It’s been over 20 years since the first planet orbiting a Sun-like star outside our solar system was discovered, and at last count the grand total stands at 3,268. Unfortunately, only a handful of exoplanets orbit within the habitable zone around their stars. A team of astronomers has set their sights on one such exoplanet, and through computer simulations determined that it could harbor a rocky composition, oceans and, potentially, even life.
Kepler-62f was discovered in 2013 by the Kepler telescope, which was launched in 2009 and is responsible for identifying 2,325 exoplanets to date. Kepler-62f is approximately 1,200 light-years away from us, about 40 percent larger than Earth and orbits its parent star within the habitable zone, where conditions may be just right for liquid water to form.
The study, led by Aomawa Shields of the University of Southern California Los Angeles (UCLA) physics and astronomy department, ran computer simulations testing different combinations of orbit and atmosphere possibilities. They tested different thicknesses of the exoplanet’s atmosphere, from exactly the same as Earth’s up to 12 times thicker, and different concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air, up to 2,500 times more than Earth levels. In many of these scenarios, the team found that the planet could be habitable.