Scientists have discovered three planets that offer the best chance of finding life outside of our own solar system.
The planets that orbit an ultra cool dwarf star located 39 lightyears away are roughly the size and temperature of Earth and Venus according to the repot published in Nature.
Lead author, Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at he University of Liege in Belgium told AFP;
“This is the first opportunity to find chemical traces of life outside our solar system.”
According to Gillon, all three planets have the “winning combination” of being a similar size to Earth, potentially habitable and are close enough so their atmospheres can be analysed with current technology.
He goes on to add that this find opens up a whole new “hunting ground” for habitable planets.
Gillon and his colleagues are using a telescope located in Chile and known as TRAPPIST, to track movements of many dwarf stars. In this particular case they narrowed in on a promising planet, known as TRAPPIST-1 which was about one eighth of the size of our own Sun.
After months of observation, the astronomers noticed infrared signals were faded at regular intervals which is indicative of objects that are in orbit. After closer analysis it was revealed that what they were looking at were in fact “exoplanets”, which are planets that revolve around stars outside of our own solar system.
“So far, the existence of such ‘red worlds’ orbiting ultra-cool dwarf stars was purely theoretical, but now we have not just one lonely planet but three.” Said Co-author Emmanuel Jehin, also from the University of Liege.
Their proximity to Earth is good news too as it also means that scientists are going to be able to do a lot more research.
“These planets are so close, and their star so small, we can study their atmosphere and composition. This is a jackpot for the field,” said co-author Julien de Wit, a researcher at MIT, adding that it should be possible to determine if they harbour life “within our generation”.
It just goes to show, you wait years for a habitable planet to turn up, and three show up all at once.