The University of Washington has announced the discovery of a new planet which could harbor life. Astronomers led by Sarah Ballard added this new planet named Kepler 61b. It is orbiting near the inner edge of the habitable zone around it’s sun. The habitable zone is a small area around a star where the temperature is suitable for liquid water. The temperature of Kepler 61b is estimated to be approximately 40 degrees Celsius if it has an atmosphere like Earth. At 2.15 the size of Earth the planet orbits it’s sun every 60 days. This new planet receives about 32% more light than the Earth does from our sun. It is currently ranked number 6 in the planets most like earth by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory.
The Kepler spacecraft recently experienced an issue with one of it’s reaction wheels which are used to point the spacecraft for observations. The Kepler spacecraft is currently functioning properly on three of it’s four reaction wheels. One of the reaction wheels had failed previously leaving the minimum needed of three. If the wheel fails which caused the safe mode event Kepler will no longer be able to gather this important data which is helping to improve our knowledge about planets which could harbor life. There is some reason for concern as attempts to redistribute the lubrication for the wheel did not improve it’s performance. The wheel was placed back into operation and has been functioning.
If this planet were the same average density as Earth, it would have about ten times the mass of Earth with over twice the surface gravity and an atmosphere scale height of something like four kilometers. I’d think it is much, much more likely to be a smaller, warmer version of Uranus or Neptune, with over half its mass as gas and hot, supercompressed ice.