News FocusExoplanetary Research

A Distant Glimpse of Alien Life?

Science  19 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6045, pp. 930-932
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6045.930

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Summary

Last September, a pair of U.S. astronomers spotted the first "Goldilocks planet": a body outside the solar system orbiting its star at a distance that would leave it neither too hot nor too cold to harbor Earth-like life. Then a few days later, rival researchers announced that their more-detailed observations showed no sign of the putative planet. Gliese 581g was reclassified as "unconfirmed," and the Goldilocks milestone remains unclaimed. Disappointing, yes, but for exoplanetary research, the reversal was barely a bump in the road. At current rates of discovery, astronomers say, the first potentially habitable extrasolar planet is sure to come along soon, and many others will follow. Researchers are so confident that they are already gearing up to look for Goldilocks herself. They aim not merely to identify which planets might support life but to show that some of them do.