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Kepler Discovers Three Earth-like Planets Orbiting a Nearby Red Dwarf Star

First Posted: Jan 18, 2015 03:28 PM EST
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Scientists have discovered a star with three Earth-sized planets. Not only that, but one of the planets may just have temperatures that are moderate enough for liquid water, and possibly life, to exist.

Despite the fact that NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has been hobbled by the loss of critical guidance systems, it's continued to make discoveries over time. In this case, it found a star with three planets. The outermost planet orbits the "Goldilocks" zone of the star-neither too hot nor too cold.

The star itself is called EPIC 201367065. It's a cool red M-dwarf star that's about half the size and mass of our own sun. Located at a distance of 150 light-years from Earth, it ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets.

In this case, the researchers studied the planets' atmospheres around this star to see whether they were like Earth's atmosphere. The planets themselves are 2.1, 1.7 and 1.5 times the size and Earth. The one that's 1.5 the size of Earth actually receives levels of light that are similar to those received by Earth from the sun.

"Most planets we have found to date are scorched," said Erik Petigura, one of the researchers, in a news release. "There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans."

And while researchers believe that at least one of the planets is in the habitable zone, it will be some time before researchers can say whether or not there's life on this planet. Currently, the scientists plan to conduct observations with other telescopes to take the spectroscopic fingerprint of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres, which should tell researchers a bit more about these planets.

The findings are published online.

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