By Mike Schuh

BALTIMORE (WJZ)–The idea that life exists outside of Earth gets a big boost.

Mike Schuh reports a NASA spacecraft is telling scientists that the possibility is stronger than ever.

The Kepler spacecraft is a marvel of human design. Parked outside of the gravitational pull of Earth, it’s looking for one thing: planets the size of Earth that can support life.

Now, the Kepler mission’s science team has added 800 planets that could support life.

“What it allows astronomers to do is realize that there are probably many more planet-like Earths in our galaxy than ever expected before,” said Derrick Pitts, Franklin Institute chief astronomer.

They’re more than 3,500 such planets, about 10 the size of Earth. As they understand it, the best chances of life lie not too close nor too far away from that planet’s sun in an Earth-like sweet spot maybe as close as 12 light years away.

“When you look up in the sky on a dark night with thousands of stars, if one of those Earth-like planets is 12 light years, you could be looking at a star that has an Earth-like planet orbiting it,” said Jim O’Leary, Maryland Science Center.

Twelve light years. That is the time it takes light to travel. It’s 72 trillion miles, so don’t go booking a rocket ship just yet.

“At the speeds we’re currently able to fly through our galaxy, it’s going to take a very long time because 12 light years, that’s a long, long, long way off,” Pitts said.

At the Maryland Science Center, O’Leary says life doesn’t mean intelligent beings.

“Life as we know it, forming over millions of years of evolution. Forming intelligent life is hard to make. A lot of things would have to work just right, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find life in simpler forms,” O’Leary said.

Scientists say the next step is to develop a telescope that looks directly at a planet most likely to harbor life.

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