Scientists believe that they have found a planet in a nearby constellation that can have liquid water, thus making it able to support life.
The planet is being called a "Super-Earth" because it is slightly larger than our planet. It is being considered a prime candidate for life because it is in what is considered the habitable zone - not too close to be extremely hot, but not too far to be extremely cold. In addition, its distance from its star means that it rotates freely, rather than always showing only one side to the star (that phenomenon, called tidal locking, is why we always only see just one side of the moon, for instance), which also is a trait that makes it hospitable to life.
Its year is about 200 days long, or about half the length of time of a year on Earth. Its star is smaller than ours, so it is also colder on the planet.
This planet, named HD 40307g, is not the first habitable planet researchers have found. Last year, Kepler-22b, the first planet found in a habitable zone, was found. However, that planet was 600 light years away from ours, not a terribly far distance considering that our galaxy is 100,000 light years wide. But this planet is a comparatively neighborly 42 light years away, which means that it might be spotted on telescope equipment.
Like any discovery in the scientific community, scientists have hardly rushed to embrace the new planet. The technique used to find the star is a new one. The researchers looked at observations made from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS, which is part of a telescope based in Chile. The tool measures slight gravitational wobbles that a star makes, caused by its planets. The technique allowed the team of researchers to find three additional planets in the solar system. But researchers do not yet know if the planet is rocky like Earth or gaseous like Neptune, and some researchers are not actually convinced that the planet even exists.
The study was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.