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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

6/26/2013 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

New technology and new discoveries are aiding the quest for extraterrestrial life.

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of no less than three habitable planets around a star just 22 light-years away. The announcement is impressive for a number of reasons, including the implications it could have on the search for life beyond our solar system.

The three planets are larger than Earth but probably have liquid water on their surfaces.

The three planets are larger than Earth but probably have liquid water on their surfaces.

Article Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

6/26/2013 (9 months ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Gilese 667C, earths, habitable, life, telescope


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The star, Gliese 667C has been in the news before. The star is actually part of a three-star system and each shines more dimly than our sun. At least one planet was previously discovered in the star's habitable zone, an area where temperatures are just right so that liquid water can exist.

As scientists conducted their close examination of their findings, they discovered something strange. Their measurements were not adding up. After more follow-up research, they discovered the reason; Gilese 667C had three super-Earths orbiting its habitable zone, not just one.

The amazing discovery was announced last week.

Scientists are detecting an ever-increasing number of planets around stars as they refine their methods. At its most basic, scientists are able to detect the wobble of a star as its planets orbit. This is because all planets have some kind of gravitational influence on their parent stars. As a planet orbits a star, it pulls the star ever so slightly in its direction causing it to wobble. Scientists can detect this.

By measuring the wobbles and any variations therein, they can calculate the mass and orbital distance of most large planets swirling about it.

If those planets happen to be in the "goldilocks zone" the proverbial name for the band of space around a star where liquid water can exist, then life as we know it on Earth may be possible.

For scientists studying Gliese 667C, they have found evidence of no less than three such planets in the goldilocks zone.

Previously, astronomers have discovered only single planets in these zones. However, the dimness of the star and its two companions, means the zone is wider than normal and can include more planets.

This discovery has implications for life elsewhere in the universe. If habitable planets are more common, then so may be life.

Although astronomers are finding more habitable worlds around nearby stars, they still haven't found evidence for life around them. This too may change in the years to come.

Soon, a new generation of space telescopes will be launched and combined with ever-more powerful ground-based telescopes. These telescopes should have the power to observe the light from stars as it passes through the atmosphere of these distant planets, thus allowing scientists to analyze it for distinctive signs of life.

Certain chemicals may appear in those atmospheres and betray the existence of life. Such discoveries may now only be years away.

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