Astronomers are constantly searching for Earth-like planets outside our solar system that may support life. However, the search for these planets is not an easy task. Astronomers rely on indirect methods to detect them, which makes the task even more difficult. But recently, astronomers made a breakthrough in their search for these planets by using a new technique that detects the invisible.

Scientists have been using a method called the transit method to detect planets for many years. This method involves observing a star’s brightness and looking for the slight dimming that occurs when a planet passes in front of it. However, this method is limited to detecting planets that are similar in size to Earth or larger, as smaller planets are harder to detect.

To overcome this limitation, astronomers have turned to a new technique called the transit-timing variation method. This method looks for variations in the timing of a planet’s transit across a star. If there are variations, it can indicate the presence of other planets in the system.

TOI-178 ArtNow, researchers from the University of Warwick have used this method to discover a new exoplanet system, including a Neptune-sized planet and two Earth-sized planets. The system, known as TOI-178, is located in the constellation of Sculptor and is approximately 200 light-years from Earth.

The discovery of this system is significant because it provides insights into how planetary systems form and evolve. The researchers believe that the two Earth-sized planets are rocky and may be in the habitable zone of the star, where liquid water can exist.

But the search for Earth-like planets continues, and astronomers are constantly looking for new methods and technologies to detect them. The transit-timing variation method provides a promising new approach, but it is still limited by the technology available.

The search for life beyond Earth is one of the most exciting and challenging endeavors in science today. Every new discovery brings us closer to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe.

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Reference: Sky News. “Astronomers make leap in search for Earth-like planets – but what they’re looking for is invisible.” 4 February 2021. Sky News. https://news.sky.com/story/astronomers-make-leap-in-search-for-earth-like-planets-but-what-theyre-looking-for-is-invisible-12849152

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