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The Hunt for Habitable Planets

Here and now, a new suite of small telescopes are poised to look for Earthlike planets beyond the solar system

For years, planet hunters have been preoccupied with hot Jupiters—giant, gaseous planets that tightly hug their sunlike parent stars. These massive, close-in planets, not yet directly seen, are the easiest to find because they induce the largest wobble in the motion of the stars they orbit. But now astronomers are following a rockier road—seeking rocky, icy planets only a few times as massive as Earth. Soon, astronomers predict, they will discover an Earth-sized planet that orbits within the habitable zone of its parent star. And if David Charbonneau has any say about it, that historic find will come from eight tiny telescopes his team has just finished assembling at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on MountHopkins in Arizona.

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