And the hunt for life-giving alien worlds is, of course, the central motivation for exoplanetary studies.
ANALYSIS: No Alien Signals Detected From Kepler's New Exoplanet
But the exoplanet signal has been called into doubt.
Gliese 581d's star, Gliese 581, is a small red dwarf around 20 light-years away. Red dwarfs are known to be tempestuous little stars, often generating violent flaring outbursts and peppered in dark features called starspots. To detect the exoplanet, astronomers measured the very slight frequency shift (Doppler shift) of light from the star - as the world orbits, it exerts a tiny gravitational "tug", causing the star to wobble. When this periodic wobble is detected, through an astronomical technique known as the "radial velocity method," a planet may be revealed.
Last year, however, in a publication headed by astronomers at The Pennsylvania State University, astronomers pointed to the star's activity as an interfering factor that may have imitated the signal from an orbiting planet when in fact, it was just noisy data.