More and more of these other worlds look a lot like Earth

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It’s a big universe, but it’s full of small planets. A group of astronomers led by Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced Tuesday they had found eight new planets orbiting their stars at distances compatible with liquid water, bringing the total number of potentially habitable “Goldilocks planets” to a few dozen, depending on how the habitable zone is defined.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, now in its fifth year of seeking out the shadows of planets circling other stars, has spotted hundreds, and more and more of these other worlds look a lot like Earth — rocky balls only slightly larger than our own home that with the right doses of starlight and water could turn out to be veritable gardens of microbial Eden.

As the ranks of these planets grow, astronomers are beginning to plan the next step in the quest to end cosmic loneliness, gauging which hold the greatest promise for life and what tools will be needed to learn about them.

 

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