German astronomers have found Eighteen Earth-sized exoplanets beyond the solar system. One of them could offer conditions friendly to life.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), the Georg August University of Göttingen, and the Sonneberg Observatory found these exoplanets in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

They used an algorithm designed to detect dips in a star’s brightness that would signal the passing of a planet.

“Our new algorithm helps to draw a more realistic picture of the exoplanet population in space,” summarizes Michael Hippke of Sonneberg Observatory. “This method constitutes a significant step forward, especially in the search for Earth-like planets.”

The team estimates that their new method has the potential of finding more than 100 additional exoplanets in the Kepler mission’s entire data set.

The worlds are so small that other researchers had previously overanalyzed them. However, because the new method was more sensitive, the astronomers were able to uncover the 18 exoplanets.

The researchers describe their results in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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So far, astronomers have detected over 4,000 exoplanets, but none of them hospitable to life. Of these exoplanets, about 96 percent are significantly larger than our Earth, most of them similar in size to Jupiter.

One of these exoplanets is one of the smallest ever, only 69 percent of the size of the Earth. The largest is more than twice the Earth’s radius. Astronomers weren’t able to detect any of the 18 exoplanets in the data from the Kepler Space Telescope.

The most interesting of them is an exoplanet found orbiting within the habitable zone of a red dwarf star.

“At this favorable distance from its star,” they write in the press release, “this planet may offer conditions under which liquid water could occur on its surface — one of the basic prerequisites for life as we know it on Earth.”

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