Study suggests worlds may be life sites

Jan. 7, 2013 at 6:06 PM
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OXFORD, England, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- New planet candidates orbiting in the habitable zones of other stars suggest a "traffic jam" of worlds in such regions, British and U.S. scientists say.

Volunteers using the website, part of the Oxford University-led Zooniverse project, have discovered 15 new planet candidates, and one of them, a Jupiter-sized world dubbed PH2 b, has been confirmed as a planet by follow-up observations by the Keck telescope in Hawaii, an Oxford release reported Monday.

"There's an obsession with finding Earth-like planets but what we are discovering, with planets such as PH2 b, is far stranger," Zooniverse leader Chris Lintott said.

"Jupiter has several large water-rich moons -- imagine dragging that system into the comfortably warm region where the Earth is. If such a planet had Earth size moons, we'd see not Europa and Callisto but worlds with rivers, lakes and all sorts of habitats -- a surprising scenario that might just be common."

Moons often accompany larger planets, the researchers said.

"We can speculate that PH2 b might have a rocky moon that would be suitable for life," lead study author Ji Wang of Yale University said.

"I can't wait for the day when astronomers report detecting signs of life on other worlds instead of just locating potentially habitable environments. That could happen any day now."

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