NEW YORK — Astronomers working with NASA’s Kepler planet-finding spacecraft said Thursday that they had found the most Earth-like worlds yet known in the outer cosmos, a pair of planets that appear capable of supporting life and that orbit a star 1,200 light-years from here in the constellation Lyra.
The newly discovered planets are the two outermost of five worlds circling a yellowish star slightly smaller and dimmer than our Sun, destined to be known forever in the cosmic history books as Kepler 62. These planets are roughly half again as large as the Earth and are presumably balls of rock, perhaps covered by oceans with humid cloudy skies, although that is at best a highly educated guess.
Nobody will probably ever know whether anything lives on these planets, and the odds are that humans will travel there only in their faster-than-light dreams, but the news has sent astronomers into heavenly raptures. William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center, head of the Kepler project, described one of the new worlds as the best site yet found in Kepler’s search for other Earths.