Brian Resnick · Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 2:00 pm
This tiny star has 7 planets that potentially could be suitable for life.
The first step in finding life outside our own planet is to find a planet like our own: small, rocky, and at just the right distance from the star that liquid water could exist on its surface.
That’s why an announcement today from NASA is so exciting: The space agency, along with partners around the world, has found seven potentially Earth-like planets in the sweet spot orbiting a star 40 light-years away.
“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around a same star,” Michaël Gillon, the lead author of the Nature paper announcing the discovery, said in a press conference. “The seven planets … could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”
Three of the planets are directly in the star’s habitable zone, meaning water can mostly likely exist on the surface of them. One of them, Gillon said, has a mass “strongly to suggest a water-rich composition.” And it’s possible that the other four could have liquid water, too, depending on the composition of their atmospheres, the astronomers said.