Stretford , Urmston , Trafford Photographer

Earth-like planet found outside our solar system

A team of astronomers has confirmed the discovery of a planet which they claim possesses the most Earth-like conditions beyond our own world.

The rocky planet, which is three times the size of Earth’s mass, could be the first ever to be found outside our solar system with the potential to support human life, American astronomers have said.

Spotted by scientists lying in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of the Milky Way twenty light years away, the planet is said to have gravity similar to Earth and could well be capable of supporting life.

The ‘Goldilocks Zone’ is a region in space where surface temperatures reach an average high of -12C and are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to form oceans, lakes and rivers.

Chances for life on this planet are 100 percent, according to Dr Steven Vogt who led the study at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Dr Vogt said: “Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet. The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common.”

He added: “The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably in the order of 10 or 20 percent, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that’s a large number. There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy.”

The planet orbits a nearby red dwarf star, called Gliese 581, in the constellation of Libra and its short distance to the star means that a total year is just thirty-seven days long and its seasons last only a few days.

The exciting discovery comes after eleven years of observations at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and three years after astronomers found a similar, slightly less habitable planet around Gliese 581.

However, the planet is so far away that a spacecraft travelling close to the speed of light would take twenty years to complete the journey.