A new super-Earth planet that may have an Earth-like climate and be just right to support life has been discovered around a nearby star by an international team of astronomers, led by Mikko Tuomi, University of Hertfordshire, and Guillem Anglada-Escude, University of Goettingen.
Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
ESA's Herschel space observatory has discovered enough water vapour to fill Earth's oceans more than 2000 times over, in a gas and dust cloud that is on the verge of collapsing into a new Sun-like star.
Stars form within cold, dark clouds of gas and dust - 'pre-stellar cores' - that contain all the ingredients to make solar systems like our own.
In this image from NASA's Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust. The fractured Link outcrop has blocks of exposed, clean surfaces. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. Many gravel-sized rocks have eroded out of the outcrop onto the surface, particularly in the left portion of the frame. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Water transport is the only process capable of producing the rounded shape of clasts of this size.
Life thrives on Planet Earth. In even the most inhospitable places -- the freezing Antarctic permafrost, Sun-baked salt pans in Tunisia or the corrosively acidic Rio Tinto in Spain -- pockets of life can be found. Some of these locations have much in common with environments found on Mars, as discovered by orbiters and rovers exploring the surface.
Leading up to ESO's 50th anniversary in October 2012, we are releasing eight special ESOcasts, each a chapter from the movie Europe to the Stars -- ESO's First 50 Years of Exploring the Southern Sky. In this special episode - ESOcast 47 overall - we look at one of the greatest quests that astronomers have pursued over the centuries: the search for life in the Universe. ESO has played an important role in this exciting journey.