New Planet May Be Habitable, But is Slightly Overweight?

A new "super Earth" planet may be habitable, according to some scientists.

The planet circles a nearby star to Earth and is one of three new planets discovered, making for a total of six planets that are now circling the same star. Due to a slower orbit, however, the latest planet has caught the interest of some, who believe that the planet may be habitable.

The star, somewhat blandly named HD 40307, is about 43 light years away according to researchers. One light year is equal to about 5.9 trillion miles, but researchers say the planet is not quite out of reach. The planet in question, HD40307g, is larger than Earth, although not quite the size of Jupiter.

According to some researchers, it's got potential.

"The star HD 40307, is a perfectly quiet old dwarf star, so there is no reason why such a planet could not sustain an Earth-like climate," study co-author Guillem Anglada-Escude of the University of Goettingen told USA Today.

The star that the planet circles is about 77 percent the size of the sun and is considered "relatively close," prompting researchers to suggest it as a good target for future space telescopes.

But other researchers have held their doubts, stating that the new planet is packing one too many pounds to compete with the planet Earth.

While the detection looks solid, "the planet is a little too hefty to be the whole enchilada of an Earth-like planet," University of Toronto astronomer Ray Jayawardhana, author of "Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System," told USA.

Others say that there are many more habitable planets to come, which have yet to be discovered.

"To me this discovery stands out as adding to the tip of the iceberg, or adding to the tipping point where we will get to an almost everyday occurrence of finding potentially habitable planets," MIT astronomer Sara Seager said, offering USA an outside opinion via email. "More seriously, we are definitely heading towards a statistical picture of how many potentially habitable planets are out there."