Does Earth have a habitable neighbor?

Astronomers from Switzerland, France and Portugal report they've discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, according to a report in ZeeNews.com.

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Scientists say the planet has a radius only 50 percent larger than Earth, and is very likely to contain liquid water on its surface.

The research team used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) 3.6-m telescope to discover the planet, which orbits a red dwarf already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet.

Astronomers believe there is a strong possibility of the presence of a third planet in the system with a mass about eight times that of the Earth.

Unlike our Earth, however, this planet takes only 13 days to complete one orbit round its star. It also is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun.

Since its host star is the red dwarf Gliese 581, which is smaller and colder than the Sun, scientists say the planet lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid.