Space

They’re located in the “habitable zone,” where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface.

The news: Researchers at the University of Göttingen have been studying a star known as “Teegarden’s star” for the last three years. They found two planets orbiting it that seem to bear some similarities to Earth, orbiting in a region where it’s possible there could be liquid water. Their findings are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics this week.

The star: It’s so faint it wasn’t spotted until 2003. It’s one of our closest stars (a mere 12.5 light-years away) and it’s an “M dwarf,” about half as warm as the sun and a tenth as big. That means potentially habitable planets would have to be closer to it than those in our own solar system, and thus orbit more quickly. The two new planets were spotted using the CARMENES instrument on a telescope in Spain. It looks for how an exoplanet’s gravitational pull periodically affects a star’s light.

Could they host alien life? The fact the planets bear similarities to our own lump of rock is obviously fascinating. However, there’s no way to know what their atmosphere is like—and so if there could be any life there—until we have more powerful telescopes. “Both Teegarden’s planets are potentially habitable,“ Ignasi Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia told National Geographic. “We will eventually see if they are actually habitable and, perhaps, even inhabited.”

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