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Exoplanet Looks Potentially Lively

Newly discovered exoplanet HD 85512 b could be hospitable to life. John Matson reports

They say there's no place like home. Well, we may get to test the idea. Because astronomers have located a world that could be a bit like Earth some 36 light-years away. The new addition to the list of exoplanets goes by the name HD 85512 b. And the newfound world is among the few known that might be hospitable to life.

The exoplanet is a few times the mass of Earth, but it should still be small enough to be rocky rather than a gas giant like Jupiter. It orbits close to its star, but since that star is somewhat smaller and cooler than the sun, the planet's climate could be rather temperate. That's according to a new study submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. [Lisa Kaltenegger et al. on arXiv.org, "A Habitable Planet around HD 85512?"]

If the planet has an atmosphere like ours, it would need about 50 percent cloud cover to stay cool enough for liquid water to exist on the surface. Mild enough, that is, for life as we know it.

Astronomers are just beginning to find potentially habitable worlds. And NASA's Kepler satellite should turn up more soon—including, perhaps, some that look even more like Earth.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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