- a press release yesterday on EurekAlert! from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics;
- an analysis on MSNBC's by Cosmic Log's Alan Boyle; and
- a separate analysis by John D. Sutter on CNN.
Philosophically speaking, the critical point about the new discovery is that we have been too narrow in where we have looked for other planets like ours. When the focus was only on stars in the range of our sun's size and intensity, the results were paltry. But very shortly after researchers went unconventional and allowed themselves to look in the direction of dimmer stars, they started to find Super-Earths much faster. Imagining greater possibilities unveiled a more complex reality.
Apart from the full article, CNN is best at explaining the significance of the new find. Here are excerpts from its analysis:
While the planet probably has too thick of an atmosphere and is too hot to support life similar to that found on Earth, the discovery is being heralded as a major breakthrough in humanity's search for life on other planets.
"The big excitement is that we have found a watery world orbiting a very nearby and very small star," said David Charbonneau, a Harvard professor of astronomy and lead author of an article on the discovery, which appeared this week in the journal Nature.
The planet, named GJ 1214b, is 2.7 times as large as Earth and orbits a star much smaller and less luminous than our sun. That's significant, Charbonneau said, because for many years, astronomers assumed that planets only would be found orbiting stars that are similar in size to the sun.
Because of that assumption, researchers didn't spend much time looking for planets circling small stars, he said. The discovery of this "watery world" helps debunk the notion that Earth-like planets could form only in conditions similar to those in our solar system.
"Nature is just far more inventive in making planets than we were imagining," he said.
In a way, the newly discovered planet was sitting right in front of astronomers' faces, just waiting for them to look.
There were no technological reasons the discovery couldn't have happened long ago, Charbonneau said.