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Planetary data merge shows three Earth-like planets in close star system

Only 22 light years away... Pack your bags!

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Astronomers are spending more and more time looking for planets in the "Goldilocks Zone," meaning those orbiting at just the right distance from a sun that it's neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water. Now they've found three orbiting a single star that's not too far away in galactic terms.

The Gliese 667C star, found 22 light years from Earth, had been thought to harbor one such Earth-like planet. But a new analysis using data from the European Southern Observatory, the W. M. Keck Observatory, and the Magellan Telescope has found three, with another four planets within the sun's orbital plane.

"We knew that the star had three planets from previous studies, so we wanted to see whether there were any more," said Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, who also led the team.

"By adding some new observations and revisiting existing data we were able to confirm these three and confidently reveal several more. Finding three low-mass planets in the star's habitable zone is very exciting!"

Gliese 667C is much dimmer than our own sun, and so the Goldilocks Zone is much closer to the star than it is in this Solar System. The three planets are thought to have years of between 20 and 100 days and up to ten times the mass of our home planet.

"The close proximity of these planets in the habitable zone to the host star makes it likely they are 'tidally locked,' which in this case means the same hemisphere always faces the star," said University of Washington astronomer Rory Barnes.

"Fortunately, we know that this state can still support life. These planets are good candidates to have a solid surface and maybe an atmosphere like the Earth's, not something like Jupiter."

Barnes said that the data from the combined study shows that there may be many more Earth-like planets than first thought, and he said further examinations of existing data could reveal new candidates for places the human race could one day call home. ®

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