(AFP) — By Marlowe Hood
An international team of scientists said Monday they had discovered a trio of Earth-like planets that are the best bet so far for finding life outside our solar system.
The three orbit an ultracool dwarf star a mere 39 light years away, and are likely comparable in size and temperature to Earth and Venus, they reported in a study, published in Nature.
“This is the first opportunity to find chemical traces of life outside our solar system,” said lead author Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium.
All three planets had the “winning combination” of being similar in size to Earth, “potentially habitable” and close enough so their atmospheres can be analyzed with current technology, he told AFP.
The find opens up a whole new “hunting ground” for habitable planets, he added.
Gillon and colleagues calibrated a 60-centimetre (23.5-inch) telescope in Chile, known as TRAPPIST, to track several dozen dwarf stars neither big nor hot enough to be visible with optical telescopes.