The discovery of new alien words has become almost commonplace over the past year or so. Hell, last September astronomers added 50 new worlds to the list of discovered exoplanets, all in one clump. But while the number of confirmed distant worlds is ever-expanding, we’ve yet to find any confirmed to support life. Now, however, scientists believe they have found a planet that is our best candidate yet to harbor life, a world located in the middle of its system’s so-called “habitable zone.”
The planet, dubbed GJ 667Cc, orbits its star in the narrow band where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface. Liquid water is a necessary precursor and ingredient to life in any form, at least life as we currently understand it. So while this is a long way from saying, “GJ 667Cc has life!” it’s at least a step closer to saying it could, and if there’s one exoplanet capable of harboring liquid water, there are almost certainly more out there.
The study was run by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a private, nonprofit Washington, D.C.research organization. University of California, Santa Cruz astronomer Steven Vogt — one of the study’s authors — explained the significance of this discovery to Space.com:
“It’s the Holy Grail of exoplanet research to find a planet around a star orbiting at the right distance so it’s not too close where it would lose all its water and boil away, and not too far where it would all freeze. It’s right smack in the habitable zone — there’s no question or discussion about it. It’s not on the edge, it’s right in there.”
You can check out an artist’s illustration of the planet in the header image above, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.