Super-Earths are bigger, more common and more habitable than Earth itself – and astronomers are discovering more of the billions they think are out there

Astronomers now routinely discover planets orbiting stars outside of the solar system – they’re called exoplanets. But in summer 2022, teams working on NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite found a few particularly interesting planets orbiting in the habitable zones of their parent stars.

One planet is 30% larger than Earth and orbits its star in less than three days. The other is 70% larger than the Earth and might host a deep ocean. These two exoplanets are super-Earths – more massive than the Earth but smaller than ice giants like Uranus and Neptune.

I’m a professor of astronomy who studies galactic cores, distant galaxies, astrobiology and exoplanets. I closely follow the search for planets that might host life.

Earth is still the only place in the universe scientists know to be home to life. It would seem logical to focus the search for life on Earth clones – planets with properties close to Earth’s. But research has shown that the best chance astronomers have of finding life on another planet is likely to be on a super-Earth similar to the ones found recently.