During a news conference in Washington DC Wednesday, NASA revealed that, using the Spitzer Space Telescope, they’ve found seven new Earth-sized planets orbiting a star just 40 light years away from us. What’s more, three of those exist within the “Goldilocks zone” which could be habitable for life.
This is the first time that astronomers have discovered another solar system with seven planets roughly the same size as ours. Even more importantly, NASA figures that with the right atmospheric conditions, all seven could contain liquid surface water — though the chances of that are highest of that on the three Goldilocks.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, said during the press conference.
This news comes at an exciting time in the search for planets beyond our own solar system. Since the start of just this year, researchers have discovered the presence of water on a planet just 50 light years away, the Keck Observatory’s exoplanet imager has come online and a team of researchers from a compendium of universities have released a trove of observational data from the Keck’s HiRES imager spanning more than two decades. This could just be the start. Last week, NASA launched a crowdsourcing effort enabling citizen scientists to help search for exoplanets as well.
You can follow along with the press conference live on NASA TV right now. If you still have questions about today’s announcement, the NASA team will be holding an AMA on Reddit at 3pm ET today.