A group of Chinese astronomers have set up instruments at the highest point in Antarctica to search for Earth-like planets. The group has installed the first of three Antarctic Survey Telescopes at Dome Argus. One of the primary missions of the telescopes will be to search for planets that might sustain life. Wang Lifan, a researcher at the Purple Mountain Observatory and director of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy said that "we will send people there to retrieve the data next spring. I hope we can find some likely candidates. It’s hard to say precisely how many, but I hope there will be no less than 10."

Because of the extreme isolation of the observatory, it is run automatically from Purple Mountain and data is collected periodically. The telescopes are expected to find at least a hundred sun-like stars. A larger observatory is planned for Antarctica in 2020, but must receive government approval.

So far, 350 Earth-sized planets have been discovered by the Kepler telescope, but only one appears to possibly be Earth-like. The Chinese effort will concentrate on Earth-like planets. Given that the universe appears to be literally full of planets, finding one that supports life is probably inevitable. The problem is that the universe is also so huge that the odds against making such a discovery are unknown, because we have no way of telling how common life bearing planets are.

The one planet closest to being Earth-like is also orbiting Kepler-69, which happens to be one of the stars most like our sun. It is orbiting the star within the habitable zone. So far, no attempt had been mounted to determine whether or not the planet is alive, but such an attempt is in planning.

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