Astronomers on Tuesday in Cape Canaveral, U.S., said that the discovery of three planets that circle a small, dim star could bolster the chances of finding life beyond Earth.
They explained that the Earth-sized planets are orbiting their parents star, located in the constellation Aquarius relatively close to Earth at 40 light years away.
They said that the planets are at a distance that provided the right amount of heat for there to be liquid water on their surface, a condition scientists believe might be critical for fostering life.
Michael Gillon, of the University of Liege in Belgium, lead author of the research published in the journal nature, said the discovery marked the first time that planets were found orbiting a common type of star known as an ultra-cool dwarf. “If we want to find life elsewhere in the universe, this is where we should start to look,” he said.
Gillon said that the discovery was made using Europe’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. He said the telescope finds planets by looking for changes in the amount of light coming from a star that may be caused by a planet passing by the telescope’s line of sight.
“The smaller the background star, the easier it is to detect and measure these transiting planets,” he said. The scientist, however, said though the newly found planets were about the size of Earth, their host star “is just 8 per cent of the size of the sun and less than a half a per cent as bright”.
Gillon said so far, astronomers had found more than 2,000 planets beyond the solar system and were developing techniques to scan planets’ atmospheres for gases related to biological activities