Gliese 667 C is the third and dimmest of a triple star system only 22 light years from Earth. Initial observations had detected three planets in orbit around it, with one in the “habitable zone”, or the region in which the presence of liquid water is likely. A recent revisiting of the data with additional observations from HARPS, the ESO’s Very Large Telescope, W.M. Keck, and Magellan have bumped the total up to seven, with three potentially capable of supporting life. This is significant because it’s the first time this many have been found around one star.
“The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star — instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” adds co-author Rory Barnes (University of Washington, USA).
Also important is that many systems have been detected with all of the planets in close orbit around their star. For higher mass (and correspondingly hotter) stars, this basically means that all of the planets are way too hot to support life. For smaller, dimmer, and cooler stars, such a close orbit isn’t a problem and, in this case, means there could be life provided the chemical composition is right.
Now, if only we can find a way to get there within our lifetimes …
EDIT: Because I just saw this, courtesy once again of Hemant Mehta, “The Friendly Atheist” … an update on Joe Klein’s dig on secular humanists in the latest issue of Time Magazine. Spoiler alert: neither Joe nor Time gets it.