Astronomers Find a Planet Orbiting a Star Nearly Identical to Our Sun

It took six years to do it, but astronomers have discovered at least three planets circling stars in a crowded star cluster some 2,500 light years away from Earth. Even better: One of the planets is circling a solar twin, a star that's nearly identical to our sun.

The star cluster in question is known as Messier 67. Spotted by European Souther Observatory's HARPS planet-hunting telescope in Chile, the exoplanets found there are extremely rare. (So far very few planets have been discovered in star clusters.) Two of the three planets have roughly a third the mass of Jupiter and orbit their stars in about a week. The third is more massive than Jupiter and takes 122 days to orbit. However, the one planet orbiting the star identical to our sun is without precedent.

Given the its composition and location, it's virtually impossible that the planet orbiting the solar twin could host life. The discovery does show that "planets in open star clusters are about as common as they are around isolated stars," says one of the co-authors of a paper on the new discovery. But seriously can we just discover aliens already? The suspense is killing me. [ESO]