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New possibly habitable planet is just the tip of the iceberg, apparently

Dec 19, 2012

The more we learn about the universe around us the more likely it seems that there are more habitable planets capable of hosting life—at least the kind of life we’d recognize—than we ever thought before.

Yesterday a team of scientists announced in a new study that a nearby star (11.9 light years away) that’s a little smaller and dimmer than the sun has what appear to be 5 planets orbiting it. One of them is in the “goldilocks zone”—a similar distance from the star as Earth’s distance from the sun, creating conditions that could give it an atmosphere, water, and the ability to host life.

The scientists are a long ways off from being able to prove absolutely that the objects they’re observing are in fact planets, say nothing of studying the nature of the new earth like planet. But they say they’ll be able to take a much closer look soon as technology improves: “We may be able to study the atmospheres of these planets in the not-too-distant future,” said James Jenkins, one of the study’s authors. Another scientist on the project speculated that the just-discovered planet might be a “water world”—he considered it unlikely to be a rocky surface.

Even cooler: the more we learn the more it seems “goldilocks” planets are way more common than previously thought. Steve Vogt, a co-author, said:

This discovery is in keeping with our emerging view that virtually every star has planets, and that the galaxy must have many such potentially habitable Earth-sized planets. They are everywhere, even right next door.

Two more “goldilocks” planets were discovered just last month, but they’re further away—43 light years away as opposed to 12. As we discover more of these in our own backyard and get better technology to study their atmospheres, it seems increasingly likely we’ll find some form of life elsewhere within our lifetimes. Crazy!

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