Astronomers say they have found the first planet beyond our solar system that has just the right size and locale to sustain life as we know it, only 20 light-years from Earth.
MSNBC: The discovery, published online in The Astrophysical Journal, is the result of 11 years of observations at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Now they say there may well be many more planets out there like this one.
“Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet,” Steven Vogt, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a news release.
“The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common.”
More facts: An extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is a planet beyond the Solar System, orbiting around another star. As of September 2010, 490 exoplanets have been detected and confirmed. The vast majority were detected through various indirect methods rather than actual imaging. Most of them are massive giant planets thought to resemble Jupiter, though this is likely to be due to limitations in detection technology.
More recent unconfirmed detections suggest that much smaller worlds may be considerably more common than previous figures have suggested.
Go to NASA Exoplanet Count (the image below is edited)