Will 2012 be the year we discover another planet that has intelligent life on it? Researchers have detected two planets of sizes comparable to Earth orbiting a star similar to our own Sun. This means there could be life on either one–or both–of them. Astronomers don’t expect to find ETs there, but they do hope to eventually spot something that could eventually evolve into creatures like us.

The discovery is the first confirmation that planets the size of Earth and smaller exist outside our Solar System, and that we can find them with Kepler Space Telescope, which so far has spotted more than 2,300 planets that could contain life.

Astrophysicist Gilles Fontaine says, "The two planets, named KOI 55.01 and KOI 55.02, are on very short orbits around their host star." This means that they are both much closer to their sun than the Earth is to ours and so they complete a "year" in a much shorter time–one of them circles its star in just six days, while the other completes an orbit in 20 days. It takes the Earth 365 days to circle its star. Kepler is now in the process of scanning 150,000 stars.

In BBC News, Pallab Ghosh quotes astronomer Andrew Coates as saying, "With every new discovery we’re getting closer to the ‘holy grail’ of an Earth-like planet around a Sun-like star." These planets could be the remnants of ancient gaseous giant planets–perhaps like hotter versions of Jupiter–that orbited the star when it was still burning hydrogen in its core, a long time ago. When their sun became red giant, these planets would have been "shaken up," and only their dense cores, composed of iron and other heavy elements, would have survived this extreme episode.

Will we discover intelligent life in the future? Ghosh quotes astrophysicist Francois Fressin as saying that this discovery is the beginning of a "new era" of discovery of many MORE planets similar to our own.

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