|Credit: Jean-Luc Beuzit, et al. Grenoble Observatory, European Southern Observatory|
Exoplanets are planets that have been located outside our solar system. They are found using a number of techniques, but only a handful have been directly observed. Beta Pictoris b is a planet observed by the European Space Agency's telescopes in Chile using infrared telescopes. Beta Pictoris b is a small smudge on the photograph pictured above. An annotated picture with the planet highlighted can be found here. That is about as close as we can get to seeing a small dot of light in another solar system. A pixel or two.
With all we do know, there's a lot we don't. As I've discussed in other blogs, magnetic fields, atmosphere, and the type of star system have a lot to do with the viability of a planet supporting life. It's not enough to have the building blocks of life to have a habitable planet. What bothers me most is that people impart the qualities found on Earth to distant objects that we know very little about. Earth-size is more accurate in this case, but not Earth-like.
Earth is, as far as we KNOW, the only place where life is known to currently exist. It's thought that bacteria was once found on Mars, but we haven't found any evidence of it existing there now, or even in the distant past. Earth has life in abundance. Life has existed and survived several extinction events that have wiped out countless species over billions of years. Still this world persists in supporting life. I am certain that there are other worlds that ARE like Earth, and support bountiful life. However, people should avoid placing qualities on anything with no way of supporting that claim. To do so is sensational, inaccurate, misleading, and tabloid in nature.