An artist's illustration of an Earth-like planet. The search for planets that are similar to Earth is one of NASA's main goals. Many planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, but so far only larger planets (the size of Jupiter or larger) have been found. New missions are being planned by NASA which will be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets. Some of these missions will also try to detect signs of life on these planets by studying emissions in their atmospheres.


Newfound Planet Has Earth-Like Orbit

August 2 2007

A planet outside our solar system with a year roughly equal to Earth's has been discovered around a dying, red giant star.

Only about 10 red giant stars are known to harbor planets; the new solar system is among the most distant of these.

Our sun will become a red giant in a few billion years, likely vaporizing Earth.

The finding, to be detailed in the November issue of Astrophysical Journal, was made by a team led by Penn State astronomer Alex Wolszczan, who in 1992 discovered the first planets outside our solar system around a deadly, radiation-spewing star.

A bloated parent

The new planet, spotted using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas, circles its bloated parent star every 360 days and is located about 300 light-years away, in the constellation Perseus.

The red giant star is twice as massive and about 10 times larger than the sun. Its planet is about the size of Jupiter or larger and was discovered using the so-called wobble technique, in which astronomers look for slight wiggles in a star's motion created by the gravitational tug of orbiting planets.

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