Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another possible Earth-like planet found

Recent advancements in technology have allowed for the discovery of exoplanets; planets that exist beyond our solar system. Our own system consists of only a few planets, and it is therefore very interesting to venture deep into space to see what kind of variations we can find beyond those we already know. Such endeavours have led to various interesting discoveries, including a planet made of diamond and a planet that orbits not one, but four stars. In addition, we happen to stumble upon planets that look very much like our own earth, and another example has recently been found: this so-called super earth may even have a similar climate, which means it is an interesting finding in the search for extraterrestrial life.

HD 40307
The earth-like planet was found in a solar system that was already known to contain three other planets. New, complex measurements have revealed three additional ones, making it a total of six. The previously found planets were already known to be too hot to handle life, but the newly found ones may be more suitable, because they orbit the star in this particular solar system, known as HD 40307, at a more comfortable distance.

According to the astronomers, the most interesting planet in the HD 40307 solar system is the one that is the most far out. It has a mass of about seven times the earth and it is estimated that it receives approximately the same amount of energy from its star as we get from our sun. That means the planet may have a climate that is similar to ours, and that is promising for its chances to harbour life.

Future investigations
So far, we know nothing in particular about the planet itself, aside from its size and distance to the star it orbits. We ought to know more about its characteristics to be able to really say whether the presence of life is possible. But even if we find that life is theoretically a possibility on this earth-like planet, there is not much else we can find out: it is 40 light years away from our own planet, not quite a travelling distance. Nevertheless, it is closer to us than some other earth-like planets previously discovered.

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