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New planet could be in habitable zone

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers believe they have found a second planet outside our solar system that seems to be in the right zone for life, just barely.

But it would feel like a steam bath -- hot, sticky and beyond uncomfortable.

European astronomers announced the discovery yesterday along with about 50 other possibly habitable ones outside our solar system at a conference in Moran, Wyo.

The most exciting of those is only the second to be confirmed as lying in what astronomers call the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone. That means it's not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to be present. Water is the key to a planet being able to support Earth-like life, scientists say.

Only one of the past discoveries of such Goldilocks planets has held up. That was a planet found in 2007. This new one comes with an asterisk: It would need to have water and be rocky and solid like Earth, not one that's primarily gas like Jupiter.

The new planet is about 3.6 times the mass of Earth. Temperatures may range from 85 to 120 degrees and plenty humid.

"It's going to be really muggy, just think about the muggiest [Washington] day you can think of," said study author Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer with the Max Planck Institute in Germany. "We're not saying it's habitable for you and me."

Other types of life, probably shorter and squatter, could conceivably take root there, she said. That's because gravity is about 1.4 times what we experience. It circles a star 35 light-years from Earth in the constellation Vela. -- AP

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