Another Earth-like planet found

Photo: J. Pinfield/RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire, 2012

Photo: J. Pinfield/RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire, 2012

The chance of finding a planet capable of sustaining life is looking more likely, not just because of the discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting neighboring star Tau Ceti, but because Earth-like planets are becoming quite commonplace.

The newest discovery is only 12 light years away in the constellation Cetus, a relatively short distance for another star, and its parent star can be observed easily with the naked eye. Observing Tau Ceti’s solar system is bit more complicated. To detect any potential planets, astronomers watch for the “wobble” of the star, a slight movement caused by the gravitational pull of orbiting bodies. Researchers also used more than 6,000 different observations from three separate telescopes to further explore the nearby solar system. What they found were five planets, all between two and six times the size of Earth, one of which is in the “Goldilocks zone.” That means it’s at a distance from its sun that’s not too cold and not too hot – it’s just right to sustain life. The planet is about five times the mass of Earth.

With other discoveries like the Earth-like planet spinning around Alpha Centauri, scientists are seeing more and more hope for life outside our home planet. On top of this is the fact that we’re finding these other Earths so close to home, accounting for only a tiny fraction of the universe.

Still, other scientists aren’t entirely on board with the method of detecting planets around other stars, and are calling for additional research to prove the existence of Tau Ceti’s solar system.

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