Skip to main content /SPACE /SPACE

11 new planets discovered; one in 'life zone'

Could the moon of a giant planet in an Earth-like orbit harbor life?  

(CNN) -- An international team of astronomers this week announced the discovery of 11 distant planets, pushing the number of known planets outside the solar system to 63.

The latest finds include a planet that orbits twice as fast as a sibling planet, a planet with the most elongated orbit detected so far, and a planet around a sun-like star in an Earth-like orbit.

The last is located in a so-called "habitable zone," where terrestrial temperatures are possible. In such an orbit, the conditions would be ideal for the presence of liquid water, a necessary ingredient for known life.


But like all extra-solar planets that have been discovered, the specimen is a giant similar in size to Jupiter or even larger.

"It may be orbited by one or more moons on which a more bio-friendly environment has evolved," the European Southern Observatory said in a statement Wednesday.

"The presence of natural satellites around giant extra-solar planets is not a far-fetched idea. Just look at our solar system," the statement said. The giant planets Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune all have multiple moons, some of which are thought to harbor saltwater oceans.

One of the new planets was the second detected in a system with three stars. Any observer standing on the planet would get plenty of light, at times seeing three suns in the sky, astronomers said.

Besides the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile, the Haute-Provence Observatory in France and the Keck telescopes in Hawaii took part in the planetary hunt.

The first of the so-called "exoplanets" were observed only six years go, using ground-based telescopes to measure the wobble such bodies produce as they orbit their host stars. None of the new planets has been observed directly.

Astronomers anticipate the discovery of much smaller planets, perhaps terrestrial-sized ones, when more powerful observatories and satellites expand the search within the decade.

New space telescopes to hunt for oldest stars, habitable planets
November 28, 2000
Scientists discover large asteroid between Neptune, Pluto
October 24, 2000
Scientists reveal nine new planets
August 7, 2000

European Southern Observatory
La Silla Observatory
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top