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NASA finds 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star just 40 light-years away

by: Theresa Seiger, Cox Media Group National Content Desk Updated:

This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

WASHINGTON - UPDATE: 

Just 40 light-years from Earth, scientists have discovered seven "Earth-sized planets" in the largest cache of planets found around a single star outside of our solar system.

 

 

 

"The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot at becoming a habitable ecosystem that we can explore."

Three of the newly discovered planets are in what's known as the habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water, according to NASA.

Scientists characterized the discovery as a significant leap in the search for alien life during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

 "Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Zurbuchen said.

The planets were found around the ultracool dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1 using ground and space telescopes, according to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.

Scientists will share newly discovered information on Wednesday about planets that orbit stars other than Earth's sun at a 1 p.m. news conference hosted by NASA.

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The announcement that NASA would share findings on a "discovery beyond our solar system" came Monday. The vague nature of the tease prompted speculation that scientist could unveil the discovery of an alien species.

 

 

 

 

However, as Mashable pointed out in an article headlined "It's not aliens. It's never aliens. Stop saying it's aliens," it's not aliens. Scientists promised that despite the news conference not addressing alien life, the announcement would still include "exciting news."

 

 

NASA will air the news conference at 1 p.m. on its website.

Speakers include Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters; Michael Gillon, astronomer at Belgium's University of Liege; Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center; Nikole Lewis, astronomer at Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute and Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

The group will follow the presentation at 3 p.m. with a Reddit Ask Me Anything conversation about exoplanets.