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50 New Planets Discovered, One Could Potentially Support Life

"...might be the best candidate for a Goldilocks planet yet."

645-50-16-1. Those aren't lott0 numbers. These are numbers associated with the recent findings of new planets outside our solar system.

645: The total number of planets existing in 503 systems outside of our own. Wesley Traub, chief scientist of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Space.com that we'll soon reach the 1,000 planet mark.

50: The total number of new exoplanets -- planets that exist outside of our solar system -- announced yesterday. The largest amount of planets discovered at one time.

16: The number of "super-Earths" among the 50 new planets. According to Space.com, a super-Earths are "potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet."

1: A planet discovered that may inhabitable. The New York Times reports that scientists are saying it could be a "Goldilocks planet" -- just right for supporting life like that on Earth:

European astronomers said Monday that they had found what might be the best candidate for a Goldilocks planet yet: a lump of something about 3.6 times as massive as the Earth, circling its star at the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface — and thus, perhaps, to host life, as we narrowly imagine it.

The planet, known as HD 85512b, is about 36 light-years from here, in the constellation Vela. It orbits its star at about a quarter of the distance that Earth circles the Sun, taking 58 days to make a year. That distance would put it in the star’s so-called habitable zone, if the planet is rocky and has some semblance of an atmosphere — “if everything goes right and you have clouds to shelter you,” as Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, summarized it.

Astronomers cautioned, however, that it would take years and observations from telescopes not yet built before those assumptions could be tested and a search for signs of life could be undertaken.

Neither humans nor their robot helpers are likely to be dispatched toward Vela anytime soon. But the finding did vault HD 85512b to the top of a list of the handful of Goldilocks candidates.

Watch the report on these planetary discoveries:

The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS),  a 11.8-foot telescope, at the European Southern Observatory's location in La Silla, Chile, identified these 50 additional planets. Discovery notes that of the 376 stars similar to the Sun that were evaluated, 40 percent had at least one planet with a mass less than Saturn. Discovery explains the impressiveness of the find:

Just doing some very rough math, 10 percent of the stars in the Milky Way could easily be called Sun-like. If 40 percent of those host planets the size of Saturn or smaller, there are billions of planets that size in our galaxy alone.

Space.com reports that HARPS uses a technique that "looks for repeated fluctuations in a star's movement potentially caused by a planet's gravitational pull." NASA's Kepler Observatory, on the other hand, uses a telescope that looks for changes in the star's brightness, which could indicate a planet has passed in front of it. Kepler has observed 1,200 potential planets that are still being reviewed for validity.

One last thing…
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