Researchers at Western University in London, Ont. have discovered a new planet orbiting within an area that could support life.
In an article published last week in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers with Western’s department of physics and astronomy and the school’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration announced they discovered a third exoplanet outside our solar system, circulating a sun known as Kepler 159.
"Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to visit alien planets,” Chris Fox, the lead researcher, said in a news release. “Finding new worlds is the next best thing."
The planet, temporarily named Kepler 159d, is comparable in size to Saturn, which is 9.5 times bigger than Earth. Like Saturn, Kepler 159d is mostly made up of gas, with no distinct solid surface. It is not yet known if the planet has rings similar to Saturn’s.
Kepler 159d sits within the Kepler 159’s habitable zone, meaning it orbits in a range that could support life. It is not known if any life exists on the planet.
Kepler 159 is about 52 per cent the size of the sun in our solar system and is about 1,200 light years away from Earth.
The Kepler planet-hunting satellite had previously found two planets circling Kepler 159, which have been named Kepler 159b and Kepler 159c.
Researchers at Western did not use the Kepler satellite telescope to discover their planet, however. They were able to deduce its existence based on variations in the orbits of the other two planets.