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In the search for planets capable of sustaining life, an international research team with members from ETH has taken a significant step forward. As the researchers reported recently in the journal Nature Communications, they found signs of a Neptune-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, a mere 4.4 light years away from Earth. This exoplanet is located in a zone that may offer suitable conditions for life. The team was able to collect data with unprecedented sensitivity, thus registering even very weak signals.

Thanks to the new process, the researchers have advanced one step closer to a major goal of exoplanet research: the discovery of Earth-like planets capable of supporting life. Direct imaging of planets delivers information about the composition of their atmospheres and possibly even signs of life. To date, however, direct measurements have mostly found exoplanets that are larger than Jupiter and orbit far away from very young host stars. In other words, these planets fall outside the habitable zone where liquid water could form.

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