50 new planets discovered—and one might be life-sustaining

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Dec 15, 2012

At the European Southern Observatory, an exoplanetary telescope has made an astonishing discovery—50 planets we never knew about! What's more, 16 of them, which are being called "Super-Earths," aren't unlike our own. In fact, one of them might be able to support life.

It's been hard lately for those of us who grew up on movies like Space Camp. Humans have traded looking up at the stars for looking at their iPhones. That could all change with this latest news. According to HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) team leader Michael Mayor, "The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun. Even better—the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating."

One planet in particular, currently being referred to as HD 85512, is only 3.6 times more massive than Earth and exists at just the right distance from its nearest star to have an environment that could contain liquid water.

"We're not just going out there to discover new continents—we're actually going out there to discover brand-new worlds," said exoplanet habitability expert Lisa Kaltenegger.

There are so many questions to be answered still. What is the actual atmosphere? How about the gravity level? Is it possible that life exists on this planet already?

We're only 35 light-years away. What do you think—does this get you back into the mood to boldly go where no one has gone before?

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(via MSNBC)

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