NASA's advanced Kepler Space Telescope has been on the hunt for Earth-like planets in recent months, however none have been capable of sustaining forms of life due to variables like a lack of water, an atmosphere that can't support life or harsh temperatures. However, CNN reported Thursday researchers have found two new planets — one on the edge of Earth's solar system about 39 light years away, another just outside of the region — that may be the first of their kind capable of hosting alien forms.
"We haven't even found anything close to this so far," University of Maryland astronomer Drake Deming told CNN. "It's more habitable, it's less harsh and this gives us a good strong chance of actually finding life or something as opposed to the other Earth-like planets found to date."
The planet nearest the solar system, dubbed GJ 1132b, is rocky, slightly bigger than Earth with 1.6 times the mass and maintains a temperature of 260 degrees Celsius. "Our ultimate goal is to find a twin Earth, but along the way we've found a twin Venus," Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomer David Charbonneau told Telegraph. "We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can't wait to get a whiff."
"If we find this pretty hot planet has managed to hang onto its atmosphere over the billions of years it's been around, that bodes well for the long-term goal of studying cooler planets that could have life," Zachory Berta-Thompson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a statement. "We finally have a target to point our telescopes at, and [can] dig much deeper into the workings of a rocky exoplanet, and what makes it tick."
The second planetary discovery is throwing a wrench in astronomer's analysis of the solar system, as the new discovery called V774104 is three times farther from Earth than Pluto, according to CNN, yet its orbit is still influenced by the sun's gravitational pull.
Brad Tucket, an astronomer with Australia's Mount Stromlo Observatory who was not involved in the research, told CNN the discovery "probably gives us the best chance for life outside our solar system right now."