What's the Latest Development?

An Earth-like planet in the 'Goldilocks zone', i.e. at the right distance from its star to support life, will likely be found in the next two years, say NASA scientists. Given the success of the space agency's planet hunting mission, which has already found 750 planets outside our solar system, and another 2,300 candidate planets awaiting confirmation, astronomers outside NASA are hopeful as well. "I believe Kepler will find a 'Goldilocks planet' within the next two years," said NASA's Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an expert in the biology of exoplanets.

What's the Big Idea?

Any planet that resembles Earth will be extremely far away, meaning its dim light will be easily overwhelmed by its parent star. Using a technique known as spectroscopy, however, scientists can scrutinize "starlight that bounces off the atmosphere of an alien Earth on its way to our cosmic neighborhood. Such starlight carries a sort of fingerprint of the atmosphere, which astronomers can study to learn about the atmosphere's composition." That data might also tell scientists about the planet's physical composition and whether the conditions necessary to support life are present. 

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