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An Earth-Sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Cool Star

Science  18 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6181, pp. 277-280
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249403

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Starry Brightness

The high photometric precision of NASA's Kepler observatory has enabled the detection of many planets because they cause slight dimming of their host stars as they orbit in front of them. From these data, Quintana et al. (p. 277) have spotted a five-planet system around a small star. Here, the outermost planet is only 10% larger than Earth and completes its 130-day orbit entirely within the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. Similarly, Kepler can detect faint periodic brightenings, as Kruse and Agol (p. 275) have reported for the binary system KOI-3278. In this system, a white dwarf acts as a gravitational microlens when it passes in front of its Sun-like G-star companion every 88 days. The lensing effect allows the mass of the white dwarf to be estimated, which helps us to understand how similar binary systems may have evolved.

Abstract

The quest for Earth-like planets is a major focus of current exoplanet research. Although planets that are Earth-sized and smaller have been detected, these planets reside in orbits that are too close to their host star to allow liquid water on their surfaces. We present the detection of Kepler-186f, a 1.11 ± 0.14 Earth-radius planet that is the outermost of five planets, all roughly Earth-sized, that transit a 0.47 ± 0.05 solar-radius star. The intensity and spectrum of the star’s radiation place Kepler-186f in the stellar habitable zone, implying that if Kepler-186f has an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface, then some of this water is likely to be in liquid form.

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