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MIT Astronomers Detect 3 Nearby 'Earth-Like' Planets

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Are we alone in the universe? The answer may not be all that far away.

Astronomers at MIT, working with Belgian scientists, have identified three planets merely 40 light years from Earth that could potentially support life.

The three celestial bodies are orbiting an ultracool dwarf star about the size of Jupiter.

The planets are being described as "the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system," because they are about the same size as Earth and Venus, and should have a temperature range that can sustain life.

Due to their proximity to Earth, astronomers say it won't take long to figure out if there's life on them.

"These planets are so close, and their star so small, we can study their atmosphere and composition, and further down the road, which is within our generation, assess if they are actually inhabited," said Julien de Wit, an MIT postdoc, in a statement. "All of these things are achievable, and within reach now. This is a jackpot for the field."

It's hard to detect planets around ultracool stars, which is why scientists haven't spotted them before.

Astronomers say they've figured out that the planets likely have permanent day and night sides. The next step is to look for signs of biological conditions on the planets.

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