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Data and planet illustrations: NASA; Graphic: Annelise Capossela, Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Earth is special, even in the context of the thousands of planets outside of our solar system so far found by astronomers.

Why it matters: The holy grail for researchers remains finding an Earth-sized planet in a similar orbit to our Earth around a Sun-like star.

What's happening: While astronomers haven't yet found proof-positive of an Earth twin, they continue to use high-powered tools on the planet and above it to find more and more planets out there in the universe.

  • Scientists have found more than 4,000 alien planets, but none of them appear to be exactly like our own.
  • "So far, our home is unique in the universe," NASA said in an FAQ. "We have found many Earth-sized rocky exoplanets, some of which are in the habitable zones of their stars."

What's next: Scientists hope to perform follow-up observations on some of the most promising worlds found so far in order to see if any of them may truly be habitable.

  • At the moment, even the most powerful telescopes are unable to gather enough detailed data to be able to say that any planet so far is habitable, but future telescopes should aid in the hunt in the coming years.
  • Astronomers are in the process of setting their priorities for the community for the next 10 years, a process known as the "decadal survey" that will help NASA decide what missions to fund.
  • Major missions now up for consideration could help researchers characterize far-off planets, peering into their atmosphere and helping scientists learn more about what may be lurking below.

Go deeper

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.

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