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Scientists Discover New Planet That Has Potential For Earth-Like Conditions

(Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Since the beginning of the Space Age, astronomers and astronauts have searched for planets in the solar system that could support life much like Earth does.  Now, astronomers in Europe believe that they’ve discovered just such a planet.

The planet, known as HD 85512b, is about 36 light-years from here, in the constellation Vela. It orbits its star at about a quarter of the distance that Earth circles the Sun, taking 58 days to make a year. That distance would put it in the star’s so-called habitable zone, if the planet is rocky and has some semblance of an atmosphere — “if everything goes right and you have clouds to shelter you,” as Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, summarized it.

So what makes it “Earth-like”?

[The planet] circl[es] its star at the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface — and thus, perhaps, to host life, as we narrowly imagine it.

But if you’re looking for a definitive answer, you may have to wait a while.

Astronomers cautioned, however, that it would take years and observations from telescopes not yet built before those assumptions could be tested and a search for signs of life could be undertaken.

Neither humans nor their robot helpers are likely to be dispatched toward Vela anytime soon. But the finding did vault HD 85512b to the top of a list of the handful of Goldilocks candidates.

New Goldilocks Planet Found – NYTimes.com.

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