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Nearby exoplanet trio new target in search for life

Despite being cool, star at system’s center could create habitable conditions

3:10pm, May 2, 2016
Dim red star illustration

CLOSE TO HOME A nearby dim red star hosts three possibly rocky worlds, similar to those illustrated here, that are close enough to Earth to search for signs of life.

Three Earth-sized planets orbiting a star practically next-door might be a good place to hunt for alien life — or at least check out some worlds that are different from anything in our solar system.

The planets orbit a dim, cool star just 39 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. Each is outside or possibly on the edge of the star’s habitable zone — where average temperatures are just right for liquid water. But there could be niche locales on these worlds where alien life might thrive, Michaël Gillon, an astrophysicist at University of Liège in Belgium, and colleagues report online May 2 in Nature.

A year on the two inner planets lasts just a couple of days. Data on the third world are sparse; it could take anywhere between 4.5 and 72.8 days to trek around its sun. The star, designated 2MASS J23062928−0502285, is roughly the size of Jupiter — about one-tenth

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