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"Super-earth" could potentially be habitable—and a mere 42 light years away


Astronomers find planets with twin stars reminiscent of Star Wars' "Tatooine."



British researchers have found three previously-undetected planets orbiting the star HD 40307—and one of the newly discovered planet is a "super-earth" that could potentially contain water, reported the BBC.

The research, which appeared in Astronomy and Astrophysics, adds to the tally of non-Earth planets that might be habitable by humans, after it was discovered that one of the planets—a mere 42 light years away—is situated in the habitable zone around its star, an area that is neither too hot nor too cool.

That's an area sometime referred to as the "Goldilocks Zone," after the popular child's tale. Most importantly: these climate conditions mean that it's possible the planet could contain water, a necessity for life.

Discovery reports that no follow-up research on this new world is planned at the moment, although researchers feel fairly confident the planet is rocky and terrestrial, like our own.

The planet is currently a candidate, which means its existence is not 100 percent confirmed—but according to Discover Magazine, the research looks promising.

Read more from GlobalPost: Planet with four stars found

"Exo-planets" are planets that orbit a star other than the Sun, according to NASA. And there's quite a few of them: since they were first defined by science in 2005, astronomers have detected around 800 of them.

What is a super-earth? According to NASA, super-earths are a class of exo-planet that is significantly larger than our own (about 10 times), but not as large as the "gas giants," such as Saturn and Jupiter.

The term, however, does not have anything to do with the potential habitability of these planets—so you can put the terraforming gear back in the closet for now.

Read more from GlobalPost: Scientists discover planet made of diamond

This latest discovery was made using tools that can detect subtle "red-shift" and "blue-shift" light to pinpoint the location of smaller bodies, according to the BBC.

Earlier this year, scientists managed to pick up infrared light from a super-earth known as 55 Cancri e, marking the first time such light has been detected from a rocky terrestrial world, reported Discovery.