Fifth new planet discovered in 'cousin-like' solar system

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cancriSPACE.com: Artist rendering of the newly found planet in the 55 Cancri star system.

After 18 years of observation, scientists were able to confirm today the existence of a new planet in a “distant star system that that now looks like a ‘cousin’ to our own.”

The solar system is called 55 Cancri and is roughly 41 light-years away near the Cancer constellation. The discovery of the new planet makes 55 Cancri the only system we know about that contains five extrasolar planets.

The new planet is about 45 times the size of Earth but is close enough to its star to fall into the “habitable zone” where water is capable of existing. The planet’s makeup, however, is thought to be similar to Saturn’s, which is a gaseous planet. Scientists believe that other planets might be found in the same area within the next five years and that those planets would be rocky and contain water, though. It’s also thought that this newly found planet may host a rocky moon that could contain water and even life.

One of the team members responsible for finding the new planet, Geoffrey Marcy (University of California, Berkeley), told reporters the following:

“We now know that our sun and its family of planets is not unusual. Architecturally, this new planetary system is reminiscent of ours, albeit souped-up. All the planets in this new system are more massive by factors of 5 to 10…

…If there were a moon around this [new] planet, it would have a rocky surface. Water on it could in principle puddle into lakes and oceans, serving as the solvent for biochemistry.”

As the technology develops to spot smaller and smaller planets in neighboring planetary systems, scientists will be on the lookout for planets similar to our own. Said Marcy, “Finding five extrasolar planets orbiting a star is only one small step. Earth-like planets are the next destination.”

Planet System Similar to Ours Revealed [SPACE.com]

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