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Scientists discover three new planets similar to Earth in our 'galactic backyard'

Publish Time 2016-05-03 10:50:00 Update Time 2016-05-03 13:10:00

A team of scientists announced on May 2 that they have discovered three Earth-like planets that are the best bet so far for finding life outside our solar system.

The three orbit an ultracool dwarf star in our 'galactic backyard' a mere 39 light years away - around 200 trillion miles away, The Sun reports. 

They are likely comparable in size and temperature to Earth and Venus, the groundbreaking report published in Nature said.

The three planets orbit near the "habitable zone" of an ultracool dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1 - the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star.

What's more the 'dark sides' of the planets are just the right temperature for water to exist - essential for most life.

The discovery came when planet hunters were looking for so-called ultracool dwarf stars, which are too weak to show up in the usual searches. They came across two Earth-size planets that take just two days to zip around their Jupiter-scale dwarf star.

A though, the planets' sun is probably too close for them to be entirely habitable, the authors suggest there might be spots where humans could survive.

The planets are tidally locked to their star, just as the moon is to Earth, meaning the same side always faces the light.

Researchers caught the third planet transiting the dwarf star but didn't have enough information to characterise it as well as the other two

Astronomers will need help from the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope to reveal what's really in the atmospheres of the newly found planets.

Lead author Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium, said: "This is the first opportunity to find chemical traces of life outside our solar system." He said the find opens up a whole new "hunting ground" for habitable planets.

All three planets have the "winning combination" of being similar in size to Earth, "potentially habitable" and close enough so their atmospheres can be analysed with current technology.

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