How about discovering a temperate planet outside our solar system that will actually be relatively easy to study? Spanish researchers have done just that, according to Science News. The newly spotted planet, COROT-9b, is 1,500 light years away. It isn't, itself, Earth-like—think something more akin to Jupiter or Saturn—but its atmosphere might contain water vapor, and, if it turns out to have any moons, those could be habitable. Most important, though, is the fact that researchers can actually study the thing.
Although a number of extrasolar planets with moderate temperatures have been discovered, only a planet that passes in front of -- or transits -- its star can be studied in depth. The starlight that filters through the atmosphere of the planet during each passage reveals the orb's composition, while the amount of starlight that is blocked outright indicates the planet's size.
All the other transiting planets seen so far have been "weird -- inflated and hot" because they orbit so close to their stars, notes study collaborator Didier Queloz of the Geneva Observatory in Sauverny, Switzerland. Deeg, Queloz, and their colleagues report their findings in the March 18 Nature.
- Deeg, H.J. 2010A transiting giant planet with a temperature between 250K and 430K. Nature 464:384. doi:10.1038/nature08856
(Via Ecospheric blog)
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.