Extraterrestrial life could be 40 light-years away

The artist's impression provided by European Southern Observatory on May 2, 2016 shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory. (ESO/M. Kornmesser via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Astronomers searching for extraterrestrial life may need to look no farther than a small, nearby star.

That's the word Monday from a Belgian-led team that has discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years away. It's the first time planets have been found around these types of stars. Scientists say it opens up new territory in the search for life beyond our home planet.

Because this star is so close and so faint, astronomers can study the atmospheres of these three exoplanets and, eventually, hunt for signs of possible life.

A telescope in Chile made the discovery. Scientists already are making atmospheric observations, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope will join in next week.

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