The Kepler Space Telescope, which was launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to scout for Earth-like planets that orbit other stars, has discovered a new star with three orbiting planets that are slightly bigger than the Earth.
Interestingly, the outermost planet is orbiting in a so-called habitable zone where the surface temperatures are believed to be just enough to allow for liquid water and possibly for life to exist.
Dubbed EPIC 201367065, the star is a cool red M-dwarf approximately half the mass and size of the solar system's sun and is located 150 light years away, making it one of the top 10 nearest stars that are believed to transit planets.
The proximity of the star likewise means that it is bright enough to enable scientists to study the atmospheres of the planets orbiting it in order to find out if these extraterrestrial worlds, which are between 1.5 times to twice the size of our planet the have atmospheres that are like the Earth's or if these are conducive to supporting life.
Although the compositions of these newly discovered planets are yet unknown, Erik Petigura, from the University of California, Berkeley, said that there is the possibility that just like the Earth, the outer planet is rocky and this means that it could have the right temperature that would enable it to support liquid water oceans.
Because of the possibility of studying the planets as they orbit a bright and nearby stars, the astronomers who made the discovery look forward to observing these planets using the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories so as to determine the elements that are present in the atmospheres of these planets.
"The bright, low-mass star makes this system an excellent laboratory to determine the planets' masses via Doppler spectroscopy and to constrain their atmospheric compositions via transit spectroscopy," the researchers wrote.
If the Hubble Telescope finds that these planets have thick and hydrogen-rich atmospheres, it would mean that there are not much chances for life.
"A thin atmosphere made of nitrogen and oxygen has allowed life to thrive on Earth. But nature is full of surprises. Many extrasolar planets discovered by the Kepler Mission are enveloped by thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres that are probably incompatible with life as we know it," said Ian Crossfield, an astronomer from the University of Arizona, who led the study that has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.