SEARCHING FOR OTHER WORLDS

ASTRONOMERS HAVE DETECTED WATER-BEARING PLANETS AROUND NEARBY STARS. NOW THEY'RE FOCUSED ON A DEEPER MYSTERY: WHERE ARE THE FRIENDLY, EARTHLIKE WORLDS?

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE TWO more undesirable pieces of extraterrestrial real estate. The first, a planet orbiting a star known as 47 Ursae Majoris, 200 trillion miles from Earth in the Big Dipper, is about twice the size of Jupiter. Like our own largest planet, it probably consists mostly of such noxious gases as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane. Fierce jet streams blow unceasingly at hundreds of miles per hour, sometimes spiraling into mammoth hurricanes that last for centuries and are big enough to swallow the Earth. And if this harsh world has any solid surface at all, it's buried under...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!