New Planet Is Best Candidate To Support Life Yet

New planet could support life, but living there would be a truly exotic experience.

By SHARE

Add another planet to the list of candidates for a new home for our species if anything goes horribly wrong.

Astronomers say they have located a fourth planet in the so-called "Goldilocks Zone"—the small region where a planet's distance from it's star is just right for liquid water and life as we know it to exist.

[See the latest political cartoons.]

The rocky planet, which is more than four times more massive than the Earth, is being referred to as a super-Earth. It orbits around a star known as GJ 667c and is only 22 light-years away, making it the second closest planet in the Goldilocks Zone discovered to date.

Guillem Anglada-Escudé led the team at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., that discovered the new planet. "This planet is the new best candidate to support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it," he said in a statement.

There is still a lot to learn about this new alien world, but astronomers have identified a few distinct features that would make moving to the super-Earth an interesting adjustment.

Research published in Astrophysical Journal Letters suggests that the GJ 667c is a red dwarf star, a much dimmer star than our Sun. If life did exist on the newly-discovered planet, it would live in a reddish world that constantly looked like evening.

Likewise, a person standing on the surface of the planet would have no shortage of sunsets, as two other stars are close enough to the planet to be prominent features on the sky.

[Follow U.S. News Debate Club on Twitter.]

The team of researchers that discovered the new planet doesn't know what its atmosphere is like or if it is permanently stuck with one side facing its star and one side in darkness, which would significantly diminish its curb appeal on the extraterrestrial real estate market.

Still, scientists say that the planet absorbs about as much heat and light as the Earth does, a key early indicator that water could exist.

Just last year, NASA announced that it had discovered a planet called Kepler 22b, the first planet in the Goldilocks Zone. Since then, three more planets that might sustain life have been identified.

Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz and a member of the team at Carnegie that discovery the newest planet, explained the significance of their findings.

"The detection of this planet, this nearby and this soon, implies that our galaxy must be teeming with billions of potentially habitable rocky planets," he said.