Kepler-62f: Small Habitable Zone World

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NASA scientist have found that Kepler-62f, an exoplanet that is just 1,200 light years from Earth,  has the life sustaining conditions and that could conceivably support life as we know it. NASA calls Kepler-62f, discovered in 2013, a ‘super Earth’ as the outermost of five planets orbiting a star that is smaller and cooler than the sun, and is approximately 40 per cent larger than our planet.

A team led by Aomawa Shields from the University of California devised possible scenarios about what its atmosphere might be like and what the shape of its orbit might be. They speculate that at 40 per cent larger than Earth, Kepler-62f is within the range of planets that are likely to be rocky and possibly could have oceans.”We found there are multiple atmospheric compositions that allow it to be warm enough to have surface liquid water,” said Shields. “This makes it a strong candidate for a habitable planet.”

They also theorize that because the carbon dioxide makes up 0.04 percent of the atmosphere on Earth that because Kepler-62f is so much farther away from its star than Earth is from the sun, it would need to have dramatically more carbon dioxide to be warm enough to maintain liquid water on its surface, and to keep from freezing.

Here is the abstract from the The Effect of Orbital Configuration on the Possible Climates and Habitability of Kepler-62f written by Shields Aomawa L., Barnes Rory, Agol Eric, Charnay Benjamin, Bitz Cecilia, and Meadows Victoria S.. Astrobiology. May 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/ast.2015.1353.

As lower-mass stars often host multiple rocky planets, gravitational interactions among planets can have significant effects on climate and habitability over long timescales. Here we explore a specific case, Kepler-62f (Borucki et al.,2013), a potentially habitable planet in a five-planet system with a K2V host star. N-body integrations reveal the stable range of initial eccentricities for Kepler-62f is 0.00 ≤ e ≤ 0.32, absent the effect of additional, undetected planets. We simulate the tidal evolution of Kepler-62f in this range and find that, for certain assumptions, the planet can be locked in a synchronous rotation state. Simulations using the 3-D Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD) Generic global climate model (GCM) indicate that the surface habitability of this planet is sensitive to orbital configuration. With 3 bar of CO2 in its atmosphere, we find that Kepler-62f would only be warm enough for surface liquid water at the upper limit of this eccentricity range, providing it has a high planetary obliquity (between 60° and 90°). A climate similar to that of modern-day Earth is possible for the entire range of stable eccentricities if atmospheric CO2 is increased to 5 bar levels. In a low-CO2 case (Earth-like levels), simulations with version 4 of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) GCM and LMD Generic GCM indicate that increases in planetary obliquity and orbital eccentricity coupled with an orbital configuration that places the summer solstice at or near pericenter permit regions of the planet with above-freezing surface temperatures. This may melt ice sheets formed during colder seasons. If Kepler-62f is synchronously rotating and has an ocean, CO2 levels above 3 bar would be required to distribute enough heat to the nightside of the planet to avoid atmospheric freeze-out and permit a large enough region of open water at the planet’s substellar point to remain stable. Overall, we find multiple plausible combinations of orbital and atmospheric properties that permit surface liquid water on Kepler-62f. Key Words: Extrasolar planets—Habitability—Planetary environments. Astrobiology 16, xxx–xxx.