Scientists have discovered a solar system with three super-Earths that could possibly hold liquid water, meaning they have the ability to support life.
The three potentially habitable planets are part of a system of at least six planets that orbit a star known as Gliese 667C, which is 22 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Scorpius or The Scorpion. Gliese 667C, which is just over one-third of the mass of the sun, is part of a triple-star system known as Gliese 667 or GJ 667.
A group of astronomers working with the European Southern Observatory examined data from the 3.6-meter HARPS telescope in Chile. This system is the first they have found that has a "fully packed" habitable zone.
"The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star," said Rory Barnes, a scientist in astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle, who took part in the research. "Instead of looking at 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them."
The three potentially habitable planets orbiting Gliese 667C are confirmed to be super-Earths -- planets that are more massive than Earth, but less massive than the planets Uranus or Neptune. All three are within their star's habitable zone, a relatively small area around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right. This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system.
Scientists from around the world, including those at NASA, have scanned the heavens for other habitable planets to try to answer the question: Are we alone in the universe?
In April, NASA reported that its Kepler Space Telescope found two planets that are perfectly sized and positioned to potentially hold life. NASA scientists did not say they had discovered life on the newfound planets, which are about 1,200 light years away. However, they said they're one step closer to finding a world similar to Earth that orbits a star like our sun.
The Kepler telescope last fall wrapped up its prime mission of searching the galaxy for Earth-like planets, meaning small, rocky planets orbiting sun-like stars. NASA decided to extend the telescope's search for Earth-like planets for another four years.
This article, Hello, neighbor! Scientists find 3 potentially habitable planets, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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