Kepler-62f: An Earth-like Planet 1,200 Light-years Away

By: Kathryn Whitbourne  | 
The artist's concept depicts Kepler-62f, one of the habitable zone planets orbiting Kepler-62, a star smaller and cooler than the sun. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Located a whopping 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Lyra is Kepler-62f, one of the planets in the Kepler-62 planetary system. It has the potential to be considered Earth-like, thus prompting more questions about life beyond our own solar system.

NASA's Ames Research Center was the driving force behind the discovery of Kepler-62f, announced in 2013. The Kepler space telescope (part of NASA's Kepler mission) spotted it as the outermost celestial body in a five-planet system orbiting a star cooler and smaller than our sun. Planets discovered during this mission are known as Kepler planets.


The discovery was made using the transit method (i.e., if a star's light dims repeatedly at regular intervals, this indicates a planet is orbiting a distant star). But the mission didn't produce information about Kepler-62f's composition, atmosphere or the shape of its orbit. Later studies suggested how these might look.

Characteristics of Kepler-62f

Kepler-62f is a super-Earth-size planet, meaning that it has a mass and size greater than Earth but smaller than the giants of our solar system, like Neptune and Uranus. The planet is about 40 percent larger than Earth or approximately 1.4 Earth radii. Its mass is equal to 35 Earths. Because of its size, it is likely to be rocky.

Kepler-62f orbits its K-type (orange dwarf) star every 267 Earth days and receives about 41 percent of the sunlight Earth gets from its sun. This means that the planets in this system have to be much closer to their star than Earth has to be to its sun to have liquid water and be in the habitable zone. The habitable zone, often referred to as the "Goldilocks zone," is the region around a star where conditions might be just right – not too hot, not too cold – for liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet, given sufficient atmospheric pressure.


As a planet located on the outer edge of its habitable zone, the conditions on Kepler-62f might be akin to a colder version of Earth, something like a "snowball state" – provided it has an atmosphere.

Potential Habitability and Kepler-62f's Atmosphere

To maintain surface liquid water, Kepler-62f would require a high concentration of carbon dioxide due to its significant distance from its host star. This atmosphere would keep the planet warm and could prevent it from freezing, significantly enhancing its potential to sustain life.

While details about Kepler-62f's precise atmospheric composition are not known, researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics postulated the existence of multiple atmospheric compositions that could allow the planet to sustain liquid water. These atmospheric scenarios ranged from an Earth-like composition to atmospheres dense with carbon dioxide. In theory, the atmosphere would need to be three to five times thicker than Earth's atmosphere and composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide for the planet to be habitable throughout its entire year.


A modeling study, also done by the scientists, showed that the planet could be potentially covered in water, so if there was life on Kepler-62f, it would be very different from our own.

"These planets [Kepler-62e and Kepler -62f] are unlike anything in our solar system. They have endless oceans," said lead study author Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a 2013 statement. "There may be life there, but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy."


Future Studies on Kepler-62f

Kepler-62f continues to pique the interest of the scientific community, and future studies could unravel more about this intriguing exoplanet. Advanced telescope technology will allow researchers to generate a prioritized list of similar targets to follow up on, enhancing our understanding of these distant worlds.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.