Three earth-like planets have been discovered orbiting a neighboring star and are thought potentially to have water and life.
The announcement came on May 2 after a group of international astronomers from MIT, NASA, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Liege and other organizations made the discovery.
The team says the planets are orbiting a cold, brown dwarf star about one-eighth the size of our sun called 2MASS J23062928-0502285, reports MIT News.
The star is forty light-years from Earth – about 240 trillion miles away – a relatively short distance seeing as how the Milky Way galaxy spans 100,000 light years, reports USA Today.
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In spite of being so close to our solar system, the star is too dim and red to be seen with the naked eye, or even with a large crude telescope.
Researchers found the planets using TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liege in Chile.
“This really is a paradigm shift with regards to the planet population and the path towards finding life in the Universe," says Emmanuel Jehin, a co-author of the study and an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium.
"So far, the existence of such 'red worlds' orbiting ultra-cool dwarf stars was purely theoretical, but now we have not just one lonely planet around such a faint red star but a complete system of three planets," he says.
Starting in Sept 2015, over the course of several months, the scientists observed the star’s ultraviolet signal somewhat dwindle at consistent intervals, signifying that a number of objects were moving around the brown dwarf.
Co-author of the study, Julien de Wit, told MIT News:
These planets are so close, and their star so small, we can study their atmosphere and composition, and further down the road which is within our generation, assess if they are actually inhabited. All of these things are achievable, and within reach now.
The sizes and temperatures of the planets are similar to Earth and Venus and offer the best possibility for life outside our solar system. But like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (or "Interstellar"), one of the planets is not too hot, not too cold and houses just the right circumstances for habitable life.
“This is a jackpot for the field,” says de Wit.