A Home, Far, Far Away From Home?

New Jupiter-like planet CBS

Astronomer Geoff Marcy has found more planets than anyone - more than 50 orbiting distant stars - but never before has he found anything that looks quite so much like home.

"We've found for the first time ever a Jupiter-like planet that orbits as far from its star as our own Jupiter orbits from the sun," said Marcy.

Astronomers already knew there was one giant gas planet orbiting the star called 55 Cancri. But the discovery of this second outer planet like Jupiter, makes this planetary system look at least a little like our own.

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports planet hunters think there could be smaller, as yet undiscovered planets between the two giants, in a place astronomers call the habitable zone.

"That's really the prime real estate in any solar system, the region where it's just the right temperature to support life," said Dr. Charles Beichman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We're finding in this particular system a gap where the habitable zone might be inhabited by an earth."

Planets as small as earth can't be detected by current techniques. But NASA is developing new telescopes and space missions to find the kinds of planets that might support life.

Significantly, astronomers are no longer embarrassed to admit that life is what they're looking for.

"The holy grail is to find the earthlike planet and then measure its atmosphere and find water, oxygen and carbon dioxide," said NASA's Ed Weiler. "Twenty-five, thirty years ago when I was in college, if you talked about life in the universe and you were a scientist you were looked at as if you needed psychiatric help."

But now we can all look up toward the constellation Cancer, toward the dim star called 55 Cancri and wonder, if there is another Jupiter, can there also be another Earth?

  • Brian Bernbaum

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