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Discovery of Earth-sized planets boosts hope of finding alien life


An artist's depiction shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, on one of seven newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. (CNS photo/NASA handout via Reuters)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The quest to find life on other planets got a boost when astronomers confirmed the existence of at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star just 40 light years away.

Three of the planets are located in the so-called "habitable" zone, a kind of "Goldilocks" sweet spot in that their distance from the sun makes them not too hot, not too cold, but just right for having liquid water -- an essential ingredient for life.

The pope's own astronomers applauded the new discovery around the dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, named after one of the many telescopes that detected the planets. The study's results were published in Nature magazine Feb. 22.

"The discovery is important because, to date, it has revealed the highest number of Earth-sized planets revolving around a single parent star," U.S. Jesuit Father David Brown told Catholic News Service.

"Depending on different factors, all of the planets could potentially harbor conditions for the possible existence of life on them," he said in an email response to questions Feb. 24.

"It is also significant because it shows the existence of such exoplanets -- planets outside of our solar system -- around low-mass -- smaller than the Sun -- cool, red, dim stars, which are the most common types of stars in galaxies and which have long lifetimes," said the astrophysicist, who studies stellar evolution at the Vatican Observatory.

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