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Habitable planets may be easier to find than previously believed

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An international team of astronomers, led by the University of Göttingen's Guillem Anglada-Escudé, claims to have identified a certain type of star that may be circled by significantly more habitable planets than researchers generally expect to find. Such stars are smaller than our Sun, requiring that habitable planets orbit close to them because of their lower mass. That makes planets cluster together, allowing them to be more easily spotted now that researchers know to look for them. "Instead of observing 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them," Rory Barnes, a member of the research team, explained in a statement.

The astronomers' findings revolve around the discovery of up to four additional habitable planets in a place where there were only believed to be two or three. The planets were found about 22 light years away from us in a solar system known as Gliese 667C. And while each is believed to be a habitable planet — a body that can support liquid water and contain an atmosphere — equally notable is how large many of them are: around half of the planets are believe to be up to 10 times as big as the Earth. The researchers have also postulated that these "super-Earths" may be more common than believed as well. Those discoveries will be published in next month's Astronomy & Astrophysics journal.