Habitable Planet Discovered in Closest Planetary System to Sun

First Posted: Dec 20, 2012 03:11 PM EST

Astronomers have discovered a habitable planet circling the star Tau Ceti, which is one of the closest sun-like star near the solar system.

According to an international team of astronomers led by the University of Hertfordshire, Tau Ceti may have five planets revolving around and one of the planets is in star's habitable zone.

"One of the planets lies in the habitable zone of the star and has a mass around five times that of Earth, making it the smallest planet found to be orbiting in the habitable zone of any Sun-like star," the astronomers' team said in a release.

Tau Ceti, located at a distance of twelve light years and visible with the naked eye in the evening sky, is the closest single star that has the same spectral classification as sun.

Astronomers made the discovery that Tau Ceti may have a planet with livable conditions while studying new technique to search for small, low mass 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. This significantly improved our noise modelling techniques and increased our ability to find low mass planets," Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire and the author of the research paper, said.

Scientists chose Tau Ceti for their model study as it is as bright as sun which makes it an ideal benchmark system to test out newer methods for the detection of small planets.

"Tau Ceti is one of our nearest cosmic neighbours and so bright that we may be able to study the atmospheres of these planets in the not too distant future. Planetary systems found around nearby stars close to our Sun indicate that these systems are common in our Milky Way galaxy," a team member James Jenkins said.

Over 800 planets have been discovered so far orbiting other stars.
Search for life, or alien life outside earth has been an ongoing expedition for astronomers around the world. Meanwhile Russian astronomers have claimed that they will find aliens by 2031.

"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," Chris Tinney from the University of New South Wales summed off.

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