Won’t you be my neighbor? Astronomers spot habitable planet a mere 12 light years away


By Staff, The Space Reporter | December 20, 2012

Won’t you be my neighbor? Astronomers spot habitable planet a mere 12 light years away

Astronomers detect habitable planet close to Earth.

Astronomers have spotted a potentially habitable planet a mere 12 light years away from Earth, according to a recently-released statement from the University of Hertfordshire. An international team of astronomers reports that they have discovered that Tau Ceti, one of the nearest and most Sun-like stars, may be home to five planets – with one in the star’s habitable zone (the habitable zone, also known as the circumstellar habitable zone, is the scientific term for the region around a star in which it is possible for a planet to maintain liquid water on its surface.)

According to astronomers, Tau Ceti is only twelve light years away from our planet Earth (a light year is a unit of length equal to approximately 6 trillion miles). Despite its distance, astronomers note that the Sun-like star is visible with the naked eye. They believe that the star’s five planets have masses between two and six times the mass of the Earth. The planet that is located in the habitable zone of the star is reported to have a mass approximately five times that of Earth. This makes it, researchers say, the tiniest planet discovered to be circling in the habitable zone of any Sun-like star.

Combining more than 6,000 observations from several different instruments, researchers modeled the data. Deploying new techniques, the team has discovered a way to distinguish signals half the size previously thought possible. This new detection system gives researchers the ability to better identify small planets.

“We pioneered new data modelling techniques by adding artificial signals to the data and testing our recovery of the signals with a variety of different approaches,” said Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire and the first author of the paper, in a statement. “This significantly improved our noise modelling techniques and increased our ability to find low mass planets.”

The new detection system also allows astronomers to take a closer look at planet-rich systems like Tau Ceti.

“We chose Tau Ceti for this noise modelling study because we had thought it contained no signals. And as it is so bright and similar to our Sun it is an ideal benchmark system to test out our methods for the detection of small planets,” said Hugh Jones from the University of Hertfordshire in a statement.

Astronomers hope that future studies will lead to additional details about the atmospheres of Tau Ceti’s five planets.

“Tau Ceti is one of our nearest cosmic neighbors and so bright that we may be able to study the atmospheres of these planets in the not too distant future,” said James Jenkins, Universidad de Chile and Visiting Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, in a statement. “Planetary systems found around nearby stars close to our Sun indicate that these systems are common in our Milky Way galaxy.”

Researchers contend that more than 800 planets have been spotted circling other worlds, but planets in orbit around the closest Sun-like stars, such as Tau Ceti, are extremely important to astronomers.

“As we stare at the night sky, it is worth contemplating that there may well be more planets out there than there are stars [...] some fraction of which may well be habitable,” said Chris Tinney from the University of New South Wales in a statement.

As we look up toward the night sky and wonder whether we are alone in the Universe or whether we have neighbors a short distance away (as far as space is concerned), we can reflect on the words of Fred McFeely Rogers, the host of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”

Mr. Rogers began every episode with the show’s theme song, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

If we confirm life on another planet, perhaps that will be the first question that we will ask when faced with life forms from outer space.


Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments
Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 05, 2014

Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster
Andrew McDonald - Sep 04, 2014

Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth
Andrew McDonald - Sep 03, 2014

ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

New cryotank passes NASA tests New cryotank passes NASA tests
Andrew McDonald - Sep 02, 2014

Mars to be prominent in September evening sky Mars to be prominent in September evening sky
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies
Andrew McDonald - Aug 26, 2014

Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 25, 2014

SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 21, 2014