From astrobites: “What do you have to do to get a water covered planet around here?”

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Astrobites

Jun 1, 2017
Guest author Harriet Brettle, Harriet is outreach coordinator for the Planetary Society in London. She is currently studying astrophysics at Queen Mary, University of London and will begin a Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology later this year.

Title: The Effect of Orbital Configuration on the Possible Climates and Habitability of Kepler-62f
Authors: Aomawa Shields, Rory Barnes, Eric Agol, Benjamin Charnay, Cecilia Bitz and Victoria Meadows
First Author’s Institution: University of California, Los Angeles

Status: Accepted for publication in ASTROBIOLOGY, Open Access

Astronomers (and Astrobites!) like exoplanets, and we particularly like those that may have water—because water holds the potential for life. Water has a unique ability to participate in biochemical processes: if we are looking for life as we know it, finding water is a good place to start.

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Artist’s impression of Kepler-62f. Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Today’s paper targets one such exoplanet, – the memorably named Kepler-62f. It’s the outermost planet in a five-planet system 1,200 light-years from Earth. Like all good candidates for little green men, Kepler-62f lies within its host star’s habitable zone. This sweet spot for planets, also known as the goldilocks zone, is where liquid water can be supported on the planet’s surface. Not too close to the star, where it’s too hot and the water boils away, not too far out, where it’s too cold and the water freezes, but just right. However, before we send out the search parties, it’s important to remember that a favourable distance to the star is just one piece of the puzzle. In this paper, the authors explore some of the other key factors at play, such as different orbital configurations and climates, to study how these might affect the habitability of Kepler-62f.

What next?

This work is an example of how exoplanet discoveries enable us to apply planetary science to a whole new set of case studies (thanks, Kepler!).

The planet chosen in this paper is just one of many habitable zone exoplanets recently discovered (see here for a handy list). This work could be applied to other exoplanets and help focus future research on those with the greatest chances of habitability. Finding life on other planets is still a long way off, but if, as Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”—then this work gets us one step closer to knowing where to look.

See the full article here .

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What do we do?

Astrobites is a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy. Our goal is to present one interesting paper per day in a brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research.
Why read Astrobites?

Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.
Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading Astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in a new area of astronomy.

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