Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life
By SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Astronomers have found yet another planet that seems to have just the right Goldilocks combination for life: Not so hot and not so cold. It's not so far away, either.
This new, big, dense planet is rocky, like Earth, and has the right temperatures for water, putting it in the habitable zone for life, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature .
It's the fifth such life-possible planet outside our solar system revealed in less than a year, but still relatively nearby Earth. Rocky planets within that habitable zone of a star are considered the best place to find evidence of some form of life.
"It is astonishing to live in a time when discovery of potentially habitable worlds is not only commonplace but proliferating," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who wasn't part of the study.
The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1995, but thanks to new techniques and especially NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope, the number of them has exploded in recent years. Astronomers have now identified 52 potentially habitable planets and more than 3,600 planets outside our solar system.
The latest discovery, called LHS 1140b, regularly passes in front of its star, allowing astronomers to measure its size and mass. That makes astronomers more confident that this one is rocky, compared to other recent discoveries.
In the next several years, new telescopes should be able to use the planet's path to spy its atmosphere in what could be the best-aimed search for signs of life, said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study. If scientists see both oxygen and some carbon in an atmosphere, that's a promising sign that something could be living.
Outside astronomers have already put this new planet near the top of their must-see lists for new ground and space-based telescopes.
"This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky," Charbonneau said. "We found a planet that we can actually study that might be actually Earth-like."
Just saw a wonderful program about the Hubble Space Telescope last year, in fact I liked it so much I requested the video for Christmas and Santa brought it. They now believe that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of planet earth. Put that one in your mind and think on it. I know, I know, you don't believe it, but Google it or look for the repeat of the program, incredible. Acadia
Unfortunately, the recipe for what made me see "nerdy planet" is quite simple: Just go to sleep at 1-2am and then wake up at 6am for a week straight. Eventually, you'll be seeing all sorts of interesting things.
Disclaimer: They may only be interesting to you. Others, who have had enough sleep, might not share your newfound definition of "interesting."
My biggest problem is that I'm exhausted at 6pm but by 9:30 I get a second wind that lasts until midnight or so. At that point, I crash and drag myself to bed. Even when I try to get to bed early, I'll often toss and turn for hours until I get to sleep at "normal time."
On the bright side, staying up until 2am gives me plenty of time to write my second novel. (I'm closing in on 44,000 words now!)