The detection of three planets by a team of boffins at a Midland university has been named one of the world's Top Ten scientific discoveries of 2007.
Astronomers at Keele University in Staffordshire found the planets revolving around three stars hundreds of millions of miles away by analysing thousands of snapshot photo-graphs taken of the night sky.
They examined images taken of the same patch of sky over a period of time to identify a tell-tale dip in light emitted from the stars signifying the existence of a planet passing in front.
The findings have now been hailed by Time magazine as the sixth most significant scientific discovery this year.
For project leader Dr Coel Hellier, of the Keele Astrophysics Group, they have profound implications in terms of increasing man's knowledge of the universe.
"The method we are choosing to look for planets is to monitor millions of stars and look for small dips in their light when a planet passes in front of a star," he said.
"If you have a planet orbiting a star and you have an edge-on view of it, every so often it will cause a dip in its light. If you monitor that you can detect the planet.
"If we find this, we can find the mass of the planet and its density and start working out how planetary systems are formed and evolve.
"That means we can understand processes that resulted in the formation of Earth. We are trying to find out how planets form and exploring the question of whether there is other life form in our galaxy."
Keele University is at the forefront of an accelerating worldwide search for new planets. So far there have been about 200 discovered revolving around stars beyond our solar system. None, however, are thought to be able to sustain life.
However, scientists believe there maybe other Earth-sized planets making cooler, longer orbits around those same stars currently beyond our reach to detect.
"It is the technology we lack," said Dr Hellier. "The bigger the planet the easier it is to discover. It is only relatively recently we discovered the first planets outside the solar system.
"We are getting rapidly better at finding them, but we are only at the beginning of the whole process of exploring extra-solar planets and that is very exciting."
Only a handful of rocky planets similar to Earth have been discovered. But they are much bigger and too close to their stars for life.
However, according to Dr Hellier, the emerging evidence suggests a "large fraction" of stars probably have planets around them.
"It is hard to be too specific, but maybe about a third might have a planet. We would expect a lot of these to have Earth-like planets around them even though with current technology we can't detect them.
"If you add up the number most people would say the probability is high there is large numbers of life-bearing planets around the galaxy."
The implication of that, says Dr Hellier, requires a fundamental shift in human perception.
"It does suggest that we are fairly common. "Perhaps a thousand years ago mankind would have regarded itself as very special with the Earth at the centre of the universe and everything revolving around man and the Earth.
"As science has progressed we have come to the realisation that the sun and the Earth are fairly normal stars and planets. There is nothing particularly special about our sun or our Earth and therefore nothing particularly special about us."