New Worlds Discovered
June 26, 2008 -- European astronomers have found a trio of "super-Earths" circling a star 42 light years away. This is the first time three planets close to Earth's size have been found orbiting a single star, although they appear to be too hot to support life.
Using a relatively new tool, the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile, the Swiss-French team examined over 100 stars previously thought to lack orbiting planets and found that around 30 percent had super-Earths. Past experiments had shown that only about 7 percent of stars had planets circling them. This new discovery strengthens the idea that planets are a common feature of star systems, raising the chances that scientists will one day find a truly Earth-like world.
The National Academies have done several reports that examine current and planned scientific efforts to explore the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. One such report, Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology, assesses NASA's astrobiology program and makes recommendations to improve it.
Another report, The Astrophysical Context of Life, continues the assessment and examines how to better integrate various scientific research disciplines in order to focus NASA's astrobiology program. Also, The Limits of Organic Life of Planetary Systems considers the possibility of alternative or nonstandard chemistries for the existence of life in our solar system and beyond, and offers a guide to agencies and organizations that decide to fund such research.