A solar system like ours is found

We continue to see that our place in the universe is not special at all. This past week, astronomers announced that they had found a solar system that looks surprisingly like the one we live in -- except that it lies thousands of light years away.

Astronomers report in the latest issue of Science that they have found two planets across the galaxy, around a reddish Sun-like star which lies 5,000 light years away. They saw two planets â'' one about two thirds the mass of Jupiter and one about 90 percent as massive as Saturn â'' orbiting the star in a manner reminiscent of our own solar system. Between the star and these planets may lie Earth-like planets, say the scientists, it's just that our telescopes are not yet powerful enough to see them.

This is a major scientific â'' and philosophical â'' milestone, which continues the revolution started by Copernicus and Kepler and Galileo, in which Earth and then the Sun lost their special place as the center of the universe.

It was only in 1995 that the first planet beyond the Solar System was observed. Since then, astronomers have found about 260. Most of these were found by an indirect method, inferring a planet's existence from the gravitational wobble it introduced into the orbit of the parent star.

Last November, NASA astronomers said they had seen a planetary system with five planets surrounding a nearby star, 55 Cancri, in the constellation of Cancer. But the solar system just found -- which goes by the unwieldy name, OGLE-2006-BLG-109 -- is the most analogous to our own.

More details, including how the planetary system was discovered, can be found at:

http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~microfun/ob06109/

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